Thursday, April 14, 2011

And the Experts Shall Lead Us

DAY 37 OF 46

Let there be rejoicing in the streets!

I have the perfect solution to our nation's budget woes.

Instead of letting people beholden to special interests make critical decisions about our national budget, why not give the experts a crack at it?

After all, can people who actually know what they're doing do a worse job prioritizing tax dollars than the partisan politicians who've gotten us into this mess in the first place?

If I sound supremely cynical about the chances of our current Congress patching together a fiscally-responsible budget that will both substantively reduce our national debt and fund humane government services at prudent benchmarks, then you're right.  I don't think political operatives can get that done in our present environment of acrimony, rhetoric, and grandstanding.  It's been said that the world has not seen a democracy last more than 300 years or so, because every time, the governed find a way to raid the treasury with the aid of the governors.  And right on schedule, it appears America may be heading in that same direction.

But I'm not cynical enough to think it's too late.  One big key for solving our partisanship stalemate could involve actually letting professionals tell the public what needs to take place.  Experts who work with our society's problems and challenges on a daily basis, and scholars who have studied the best ways of approaching dilemmas, all willing to operate outside the scope of political affiliation or financial reward for the good of the country.

Kinda like what politicians were originally supposed to do, until they became ensconced inside the Beltway and bellied up to the special interests trough.

Step Aside, Politicians!

Everybody's talking about cuts these days, and while I don't deny our government needs to spend significantly less than it is currently, maybe it will help to reconsider the very concept of a budget.  Perhaps instead of viewing government spending as as a vat of money (and I.O.U.'s) with a spigot needing to be shut off, or a giant redwood tree needing trunks sawn off, we should re-cast the budget as a funding template for minimum standards of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Obviously, within those three credos from the Declaration of Independence, a lot of antagonism has arisen between our two political parties over what government programs should actually receive taxpayer support. However, in the interest of time, let's go with our existing federal initiatives and work within the framework of what Congress is debating even today, and see how we can add some integrity to the process.

For example, speaking of preserving life, at what amount do we need to fund Social Security to keep current senior citizens from slipping any further into poverty?  I'm not talking benchmarks for middle-class bourgeoisie comfort; I'm talking keeping the elderly in their current home with enough heat and food so they don't lack basic essentials? Can we afford to under-fund this lifeline for people who may not be able to re-enter the workforce?

Of course, if the government's own statisticians already have these figures, might it be helpful to the debate for the rest of us to know what they are?  Wouldn't it be something if we'd need less money to fund some of these entitlements than even the Republican's cuts would leave?

And at what amount do we need to fund Medicare so that citizens with life-threatening health conditions don't die for lack of basic, humane care?  I'm not talking about providing everybody with motorized scooters, paying for batteries of negligibly-necessary tests, and making sure fertility and erectile dysfunction care is available to all.  I'm talking about identifying the basic life-sustaining procedures Americans need to remain productive contributors to our society.  I'm not talking simply being economically productive; I'm including care that can allow people to provide the intangible assets of affection, support, and comfort that, for example, grandparents are known for.

Who should make these determinations?  Who should set the benchmarks, standards, and thresholds? Who can be relied upon to provide statistically-relevant data so that tax dollars can be allocated wisely?

Certainly not our politicians, that's for sure.  Nobody who is currently elected to office.  We need experts - people who know what they're talking about, and are trained to deal with these issues.  For example, people like medical doctors and registered nurses should evaluate Medicare and Medicaid.  And certified financial planners, civil engineers, and even social workers could tackle Social Security.

With no ulterior motives.  No lobbyists, industry groups, political action committees, or union reps even communicating with the professionals selected to draft the benchmarks which should be based on hard, academic science.  Facts which can be proven and replicated.  And real-world dollar amounts showing cash flow scenarios based on universal accounting standards.

At What Are Politicians Expert?

Yes, I know this all sounds like modernist heuristics, where since is believed to provide the solution for everything. Personally, I believe that faith in Christ can provide a lot of answers to life's problems, but not everybody who's unsaved agrees with me. Politicians have proven that political science is more voodoo than virtue. So what's left?

I mean, this is the United States, people!  We have experts in everything here.  Good grief - we've created most of the industries that influence and control our standard of living.  Why have we gotten to the point where the only people involved in the great budget debate are lawyers trying to promote their incumbency?

What part of the Constitution prohibits Congress from seeking the expert advice of professionals?  Is it illegal for Congress to set up an executive committee to draft common-sense guidelines for practical legislation?  Did any of the Founding Fathers expect Congress to master every topic and issue that it would have to deal with?

Have our politicians become so ossified that they cannot understand nobody from any political party - or the general public, for that matter - trusts them anymore?  Too much political rhetoric has replaced reason and logic in the governance of our country.  It's not for no good reason that Americans have given Congress one of the worst ratings of any organization in the country.

I realize that from time to time, special commissions and panels are convened to explore certain issues and contribute to the development of specific policies and procedures. But usually these are niche projects of narrow scope and limited applicability; my idea proposes to tackle some major budget-busting programs to see what they should really be costing us. Not what politicians can arbitrarily secure for spending, but what actually is necessary to fund.

After all, who's sure that applying a dollar amount to how much we want cut from the budget will actually be enough? Or too much? Liberals may fear any cuts at all, and conservatives may want to jettison entire programs, but what if the experts give us a third scenario: what a program should legitimately cost, and what we should expect for the money we spend to fund that program.

Trying to Make the Budget Proactive

By breaking out the the nuts and bolts of the budget to professionals who understand the issues better and can bring a bias based on specific competence - instead of greedy influencers - voters may have more confidence in the process of decision-making that we've elected our representatives to perform.  Plus, by removing the burden of proof from Capitol Hill to experts beyond the bureaucracy, politicians can displace any angst voters may have over the conclusions these experts reach.  Don't like the fact that too many people are unnecessarily benefiting from Medicaid?  Hey - don't blame your local politico; he or she is just acting on the proof provided by a bipartisan panel of specialists.

Oh - haven't I mentioned the bipartisan aspect of these teams of experts?  Democrat lawmakers could appoint, say, 4 doctors to a panel; Republican lawmakers could appoint 4, and maybe all of those grass-roots third-party folks could caucus themselves together and appoint 1 expert, which would likely be the deciding vote on some issues.

Then the results of each panel's deliberations becomes the evidence upon which legislation is drafted and our budget is crafted.

Hey - maybe it's too simple an idea to work. But at least my idea can't be as ineffective as the way they're trying to perpetrate legislation on us now!

What have we got left to lose?

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