By Donella Meadows
–February 23, 1995–
The good news about the Contract With America is that the Newtniks are kicking at a lot of moss-covered government rocks, asking good questions, shaking things up. The bad news is that they aren’t doing it nearly hard enough.
For example, Congress has finally passed and the president has signed into law what Newt Gingrich calls the Congressional Accountability Act. It requires Congress to abide by any regulation it writes for the rest of us — minimum wage, workplace safety, affirmative action, environmental impact assessments.
That’s a heartening change, and high time. But it doesn’t really hold Congress accountable. The way Newt et al. wrote it, if a representative gets sued, say, for discrimination in hiring, we the taxpayers pick up his or her legal expenses.
In that and many other ways the Contract stops short of real revolution. It has more to do with the good of the powerful than the good of the nation. It didn’t arise in a democratic forum and was never subject to democratic debate. So I’ve been going around asking folks what they would put in a Contract With America, if they could be as outrageous as Gingrich pretends to be.
People seem to have no trouble coming up with suggestions.
The True Congressional Accountability Act: Politicians shall receive no tax, legal, or other privileges that do not apply to ordinary citizens. It’s enough to hand people power; we don’t have to hand them perks.
The Casting the First Stone Decree: No public person shall call for an investigation of another public person without submitting to the same scrutiny. If someone in Congress wants a president to open his tax records, the Congressperson’s tax records will be opened. Any accusation about kickbacks, political favors, or funny dealings with S&Ls must be preceded by a complete revelation of the accuser’s own such dealings.
The Truth in Campaigning Law: No paid political ads will be allowed. Zero out jingles, air-brushed images, patriotic music. Candidates shall introduce themselves to the voters in broadcasts offered free by the major networks. Each candidate will have substantial time to explain his or her views and will submit to non-pre-screened public questioning. He or she will be allowed one 3-by-5 note card. No TelePrompTers. Any candidate who makes a false accusation about another will be immediately disqualified from the race.
The Restoring American Democracy Amendment. Elected representatives shall receive in income only what the taxpayers pay them. Zero out retainers, honoraria, PACs, flights on corporate jets, campaign contributions. The penalty for violation shall be immediate removal from office. Salaries for representatives shall be set at exactly 10 times, for senators 15 times, for the vice-president and cabinet members 20 times, and for the president 25 times the legal minimum wage.
The Broadcasting-Bias Equalizer. The cost of advertising shall no longer be deductible as a business expense, so taxpayers who hate ads aren’t forced to pay for them. A fraction of the enhanced public revenues from this measure shall be used to triple the budget of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The Funded Mandates Gratitude Resolution. Any state, county or town that bitches about unfunded mandates shall be audited to see whether federal expenditures in that area exceed federal taxes paid. If so, that state, county, or town must pay the difference back to the government, apologize, and shut up.
(Sorry for the snippy tone here, but when people get themselves into the Gingrich mode, they tend to go whole hog.)
The Public Givings Act: Anyone who claims that a regulation has caused a “taking” of his or her private property shall be audited to determine the balance between the costs and benefits that person has paid to and received from the government. Losses due to regulations shall be weighed against increased property value from highways, sewage lines, parks, and the like. Taxes that person has paid shall be set against the value to that person of public bridges, grazing permits, police forces, broadcasting licenses, snowplows, irrigation systems, flood control dams, Social Security and Medicare payments, etc. If the givings exceed the takings, that person shall return to the public the surplus he or she has received, apologize, and shut up.
The Balanced Natural Budget Amendment. On public lands forests shall not be cut faster than they grow. Grazing shall not destroy soils faster than they regenerate. In national waters fish shall not be caught faster than they breed. In no aquifer shall water be pumped out faster than it recharges. Pollutants shall not be dumped into air, land, or water faster than those media can naturally clean themselves.
The We-Really-Mean-Equal-Opportunity Act. Every child in America shall be guaranteed a clean, safe school building, qualified and well-paid teachers, all necessary books, a nutritious school lunch, free immunizations, and, if Newt really insists upon it, a laptop computer.
Well, as you can see, it’s easy and fun to come up with Contracts With, For, On, and About America. You can join in. Send your ideas to Newton Leroy Gingrich, H233 Capitol Building, Washington DC 20515. Telephone 202-225-0600 (you can record your message on a comment line). Fax 202-225-7733.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1995