Letter To A Congressman

By John Lumbard.

  Dear Congressman;

In high school we all learned that our Congress has the power of the purse.  Our legislators have other powers and responsibilities, but their most basic duty is to ably manage the monies that they extract from reluctant and disillusioned taxpayers and voters.  They have failed repeatedly in performing this simple task;  and ever since the Johnson administration they’ve been deceiving the American people about the size of their annual deficiencies by the use of a gimmick called the “unified budget”.

It’s essential that Congress begin to do its job, but a truly capable legislative body would do much more.  It would exercise prudence and foresight, setting aside honestly-funded trust accounts for future Social Security and medical needs, and managing its books according to accepted accounting practices in the manner of an American corporation.  Any American corporation.  A truly capable legislative body would constantly work to eliminate outdated laws and simplify taxation, fully aware that you have to take out the trash at least once a week if you want your home to be livable.  There are nations that manage to do all these things, all the time.

Our nation does not.  Our Congress is incompetent.  It cannot even discharge its most basic duties, and there is a growing realization among the nation’s voters that the primary function of our legislators is to buy reelection.  It would be bad enough if they were buying these votes with their own dollars, but what they’re doing is far worse.  They’re buying votes with money taken from us, the reluctant taxpayers, and they’re stealing money from our children.  Americans are angry about the budget and the lies about the budget, and they find it even more maddening that our legislators still see themselves as our best and brightest citizens. 

In this circumstance, surrounded by incompetent and dishonest peers, a competent legislator with a conscience should be known to everyone as a maverick—and a pain in the ass.  Like Paul Ryan he would take risks with his reputation and his chances of getting reelected, by speaking bold and unpopular truths.  In Washington the good legislators leave bloody footprints wherever they go.

Congressman, this is not your reputation.  You were known as a legislator who voted against foolish spending, but you got along just fine with your peers.  Having thought about our giant debt, deficits, and unfunded liabilities, you now want to set up a toothless committee to try to ride herd on hundreds of bad-behaving congressman and the millions of voters who are egging them on. 

It’s entirely possible that we can use this environment of crisis to temporarily bring the budget close to balance.  But if that happens it will be a short-term fix, and we know for sure that the toughest issues will be farther down the road.  It’s difficult to see how it would be possible to transform our dysfunctional, incompetent Congress for the long term without a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution and the constitutional limit on spending (20% of GDP) that was proposed by Senator DeMint in March.  Other good ideas are a line-item veto, sunset provisions for all legislation, and any other mechanism that will constantly cleanse the Capitol of favoritism, special interests, swollen bureaucracy, overregulation, and entrenched legislators. 

Please tell us what bold and heroic measures you would employ to steer this bloated and top-heavy ship of state to safety.   We need you to step up and meet this challenge with great courage and determination.

                                                                             Best Wishes,

                                                                          John Lumbard, CFA

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