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PhilipBitar.com - Political action - Cost limitation
Political action

Cost limitation

Fiscal conservatives need to recognize that, as it stands, their cause is hopeless, for the federal government is inexorably growing ever greater in size and cost over time. Even if fiscal conservatives were to control the government for 4-8 years, they couldn't get rid of the numerous entitlement programs that fiscal liberals have established while in power. Thus, Barack Obama is now picking up where FDR left off.

Is there a solution to this problem?

I believe that there is one, and only one, solution: a constitutional amendment that establishes a price ceiling on the cost of government and that places control of the ceiling, not in the hands of Congress, but in the hands of the people. Because the amendment places power in the people, I believe that it will have overwhelming, bipartisan popular support and should, as a result, be one of the easiest amendments to obtain approval for.

More specifically, as covered under the topic of political action, in the menu to the left, since a government is a monopoly, in the absence of competition to minimize the cost of government products, the customers — the citizens — must have direct control of the cost of government. I present an amendment to realize this concept. The amendment requires a two-thirds vote of the people in order for the government to increase its price, that is, its income as a fraction of the size of the economy. The latter is measured by the gross domestic product or GDP. Furthermore, the people can lower the price ceiling by a majority vote. The vote-tally procedure accommodates the federal structure of the nation.

Although the theory justifying this amendment appears in the abridged version of my book, the amendment does not. But I present the amendment here for the interested reader. I refer to the price ceiling amendment as the silver bullet amendment because I believe that it provides the silver bullet for solving the problem of the burgeoning size and cost of government.

Reference citation.  Philip Bitar, complement to Why? In Pursuit of the Ultimate Answer, Political action / Cost limitation, posted at www.philipbitar.com, 2008-12-13, updated 2009-02-17.

Note.  I've devoted a website to this topic: www.ThePeoplesAmendment.com.


Silver Bullet Amendment

© 2009 Philip Bitar

Government price ceiling — amendment proposal.   The price of government shall be defined as the annual income plus the total debt of the United States government expressed as a fraction of the gross domestic product. The gross domestic product consists of the total value of expenditures for all final goods and services produced in the United States in a 12-month period.

Upon ratification of this amendment, the current price of government shall be established as a ceiling on the future price of government, taking effect the following calendar year. The citizens shall raise or lower the ceiling by vote tallied both by state and by nation, a two-thirds vote in both tallies to raise the ceiling and a majority vote in both tallies to lower the ceiling.

Normally a measure to change the ceiling shall be requested by a vote of each branch of Congress, a two-thirds vote to raise the ceiling and a majority vote to lower the ceiling, or by a petition containing number of signatures equal to at least 6% of the ballots cast in the last regular congressional election in each of the states. Each state shall certify a petition of its citizens within four weeks of receiving it and, if it is valid, shall immediately present the petition to an election officer appointed by the President, who shall certify the petition within two weeks. The signatures on a petition may be dated anytime after the last regular congressional election. A voter may sign multiple such petitions for measures that appear on the same ballot.

After a request by Congress or after petition certification, the respective measure shall be scheduled for the next regular congressional election if the election occurs at least six months in the future; otherwise the measure shall die.

On a given ballot, a voter shall indicate which measures, if any, they are in favor of, but they may not vote to both raise and lower the ceiling. If multiple measures are approved to raise the ceiling, the approved measure having the highest ceiling shall prevail. If multiple measures are approved to lower the ceiling, the approved measure having the lowest ceiling shall prevail. An approved ceiling shall take effect the following calendar year.

To address an emergency, a measure to change the ceiling may be requested by a three-fourths vote of each branch of Congress and placed on a special ballot that occurs at least two months in the future. A ceiling approved in this manner shall take effect immediately.

The voters in each State shall be those citizens qualified to elect a member of Congress. Congress shall have power to implement this article by appropriate legislation but shall not establish or allow unnecessarily restrictive petition deadlines and shall not prevent the citizens from printing petitions single-sided on a paper size that is accepted by most citizen-owned printers.

Notes.  With price defined as annual income plus total debt, the debt may be conceived as subtracted from a ceiling on income, thereby reducing an income ceiling. For a less restrictive ceiling, we could define price as annual income plus annual debt payments, making it much easier for the government to generate debt. But I prefer the more restrictive ceiling since it will be more conducive to fiscal responsibility.

GDP will be determined by Congress through the implementation power of the amendment. GDP merely serves to allow the price ceiling to grow with the size of the economy, so measurement precision is not critical. To the extent that Congress may be able define GDP in a way that inflates its value, the people will be able to lower the ceiling by direct vote, so ultimate control rests with the people.

At the beginning of a calendar year, Congress cannot, of course, know the GDP for the upcoming year, but Congress can solve this problem as it wishes. I think that the best solution is to determine GDP on an ongoing basis by taking the most recent GDP figure that is available and by using the larger of this value and the prior-year value. This will allow Congress to plan its budget for the upcoming year using the prior-year value, but it will also allow the budget to grow with growth in GDP during the year. Approval of the amendment will motivate Congress to streamline collection of the data that is used to determine GDP.

The petition requirement includes all states, otherwise canvassing will tend to be limited to the least populous states. The value 6% was chosen because it’s slightly less than the 8% requirement of the most populous states having an initiative process, namely, California and Florida.

To avoid inconsistent results for a ballot having multiple measures, a voter votes for the measures that they are in favor of, ignoring the remaining measures, but they may not vote to both raise and lower the ceiling. A majority vote is a majority of the total number of ballots. It follows that it is impossible to obtain approval for both raising and lowering the ceiling. Also, the vote per state is a bare majority, as in ratifying a constitutional amendment.

As for printing petitions, I envision a transformation of the petition process in the modern age of computers and internet. In this scenario, I envision that most citizens who wish to sign a petition will download the petition from the website of the sponsoring organization, print the petition at home, sign it, and mail it to the organization. For this reason, the amendment disallows Congress from preventing this by, say, requiring a paper size of 11 x 17, or by requiring double-sided printing, which some printers may not be able to automatically do. Eventually petition signing will be implemented via the web without the need for hardcopy, so eventually few people will sign hardcopy petitions, but the option will always remain open until the organizations that sponsor the petitions cease to accept hardcopy petitions. Until that day — if that day ever arrives — the citizens will be assured of the ability to print petitions on their own printers.

Reference citation.  Philip Bitar, Why? In Pursuit of the Ultimate Answer, excerpt from unpublished, unabridged version, posted at www.philipbitar.com, 2009-02-17, updated 2009-05-11.

Note.  I've devoted a website to this topic: www.ThePeoplesAmendment.com.



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