Another part of the RSC plan, the second dumb idea, is to cut the federal work force by 15 percent and impose a five-year pay freeze. Let’s be bipartisan here: The president’s call for a two-year pay freeze for federal employees is almost as dumb. Imagine it is recruiting season at Stanford University and the federal government is trying to get some of the best and brightest computer scientists and engineers to combat the devastating threat to cybersecurity that could bring our economy or our defense capability to a halt. It is competing with Intel, Google, Facebook, Apple and other companies offering huge pay and benefits. The pitch from federal recruiters: “We can’t offer their pay and benefits. But we can give you a five-year pay freeze, no help in relocating and no guarantee that you won’t be a part of a forced layoff.”
The third dumb idea is the renewed push for a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. It has tons of co-sponsors in the House and Senate, including the GOP leaders, and some are calling for tying a vote to raise the debt limit to endorsement of the amendment. Let me be blunt: Few ideas are more seductive on the surface and more destructive in reality than a balanced budget amendment. Here is why: Nearly all of our states have balanced budget requirements. That means when the economy sags, states are forced to raise taxes or slash spending at just the wrong time, providing a fiscal drag when what is needed is countercyclical policy to stimulate the economy. In fact, the fiscal drag from the states in 2009-10 was barely countered by the federal stimulus plan. That meant the federal stimulus provided was nowhere near what was needed, but far better than doing nothing. Now imagine that scenario with a federal drag instead.
The fourth dumb idea is the plan by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to kill the presidential public financing system — without providing any evidence or holding any hearings, another blow to the pledge for an open and deliberative regular order. For decades, the presidential funding system, which encourages small donors via matching funds, worked well at reducing the rank corruption highlighted by the Nixon re-election campaign. It stopped working because the spending caps and limits in public funds no longer could counter the huge increases in campaign costs. Even conservatives such as former Federal Election Committee Chairman Michael Toner called for reforming, not jettisoning, the system. Call the Boehner-Cantor plan the “Return Us to Watergate-style Abuses Act of 2011.”
Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.