Monday, November 1, 2010

My Top Seven Wishes for what Congress can do for our Country

I tend not to think of politics in terms of political parties, because most politicians that are Republicans or Democrats have as their main priority getting elected or getting re-elected. They do this by voting for legislation that they know is bad for the country, but good for keeping them and their party in office. How else do you explain a budget deficit of $13.6 trillion, or over $40 trillion in unfunded liabilities, or having military bases that even the military doesn't want?
So what should Congress do that would put the country before their own interests? Here is my Top Seven List of what Congress should do to improve our country and keep it as the best country in the world. How did I come up with number seven? I could come up with 100, but that would be overwhelming. But these seven are the most important. Besides, I like the number seven.
1) Pass a balanced-budget amendment
Year after year of budget deficits tells us that Congress cannot balance a budget. The $13.6 trillion national debt mentioned above comes out to over $120,000 of national debt per family. Did you know that you had that debt on top of whatever personal debts you have?
It's time for a balanced-budget amendment that requires Congress to pass only balanced budgets. The amendment should have an exception that allows for Congress to vote to deficit spend for a given year if 2/3rds of both houses vote to do so. This is needed in times of war, or a large natural disaster.
2) Real health care reform
Medicare, Medicaid, and 2,500 page health care plan that just passed are underfunded by over $40 trillion. And they don't provide health care for everyone, they don't remove the pre-existing condition problem that everyone hates, and they still tie much of health care with employment. Yet we spend about 16% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health care.
Here's a simple solution that provides health care to all Americans, would be completely funded, would eliminate the pre-existing condition problem, and would de-couple health care with employment. The solution is for the federal government to take 10% of GDP, about $1.5 trillion, and put an equal amount of this into a Medical Care Account (MCA) for each American adult. This would be about $600 per month per adult. About half of this would be used to buy a high-deductible health insurance policy, and the other half to pay for medical expenses incurred before the deductible kicks in (and in most years, it wouldn't).
Insurance companies that grant policies under this plan must agree to cover any children the adult might have.

This plan would also replace all other health care subsidies.
I'll go into more detail in a future post, but that's the essence of it. Everyone would be covered, everyone could still choose whatever doctor or hospital they wished, and we'd save money all at the same time.
3) Bring our troops home
It's hard to believe but we have more than 350,000 troops deployed overseas in over 150 countries. I want the US to always have the best military in the world, yet I see no reason to have troops deployed overseas unless we are at war. Iraq didn't attack us, and Afghanistan didn't attack us. Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda did. So the only troops we should have overseas right now would be those who go after bin Laden and those members of Al Qaeda who are planning to attack us. And most of this can be done with our Special Forces and our intelligence apparatus, which have been especially effective since 9/11 in thwarting attacks against us by Al Qaeda.
If we did this, we'd need fewer troops, we'd have less hostility directed at us, and we could use some of the troops brought home to protect our borders and ports. I think we would actually have fewer attacks directed against us without troops stationed overseas.
And the US Navy still dominates the oceans, and can defend the US from attacks from just about anywhere in the world.
4) Transform Social Security into a sustainable retirement plan
Social Security was started by FDR in 1935 and the tax rate was 2%. It was meant to be a supplement to one's retirement income. Now the Social Security tax rate is 12.4%, and it is still only a supplement to one's income. And it's underfunded. Anyone saving 12.4% of their income should be able to retire on that alone. Instead, to retire gracefully, we need to have another retirement plan and save 10% in that. This is an incredible waste.
Transition to a system in which individuals are required to save 15% for their retirement. No more underfunding. And if I told you that most people would be millionaires when they retired, you wouldn't believe me, but it's true.  The transition might take decades, but the sooner we start, the better off we'll be.
Every month each of us would have more money to spend because we wouldn't have to put money into both Social Security and another retirement plan.
5) Replace the income tax with a Natural Resource and Pollution tax
We currently waste between $200 - $600 billion per year just because there's an income tax. This is money spent on tax attorneys, tax accountants, tax software, etc., just to pay income taxes. Furthermore, there is no rational basis for a tax on income. If a person earns X amount of money, then that money is theirs and no one else's.
On the other hand the natural resources of a country weren't created by anyone, so they can only be considered to belong to all of us. The best way to handle the natural resources is to allow individuals or companies who own them to pay a monthly tax on those resources that are not used up (mostly land) or to pay a one-time tax on resources that are used up, such as oil, gas, and minerals.
This would eliminate the IRS and all the problems created by having an income tax, and replace it with a tax that would have many beneficial side effects, such as encouraging conservation in order to minimize taxes.
6) Start building nuclear reactors now
We need inexpensive, reliable energy to be prosperous. Inexpensive energy is one of the single most important items that help the poor get out of poverty, because inexpensive energy reduces the cost of everything. Currently, there is only one source of non-polluting, reliable energy that can provide a steady base load of energy for our country. And that is energy generated from nuclear power. President Obama is providing loan guarantees to investors who provide money to build nuclear reactors. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already approved two very good and very safe nuclear reactor designs. Congress just needs to remove any other remaining barriers to building them now.
In a decade or so, we'll have better battery-powered cars, and these can be charged with electricity generated by nuclear-powered plants. We'll then have most of of our energy be clean and safe. They also give off no CO2, and will make us independent of foreign oil.
If you're worried about radiation from them, don't be. In over 50 years, there has not been even a single death due to radiation in the United States as a result of commercial nuclear power plants.
7) Allowing all parents to choose their children's school
This is really a state issue, but it's so important that I'm including it here.
Currently, if you are well-to-do, you can send your child to whatever school you wish, if that school is willing to enroll your child. If you are not well off, you must send your child to the local public school, or possibly a public charter school. We've been trying for decades to improve public education, and everyone knows how that has gone. If you don't know, go see the documentary, Waiting for Superman.
The documentary shows the plight of the poor and how desperate they are to get into good schools. The writer suggests having more charter schools, which is fine. But the only sustainable answer is to have school choice for all parents, rich or poor. There is no doubt that it will eventually happen, so why not start doing it now? If we are going to subsidize education, then allow the parents the freedom to decide how their children are to be educated.
It's simple to do. Each state should take whatever it now spends on K-12 education. (In Texas it's about $9,000 per student per year). Then put this amount into an Educational Benefit Account for each child. The child's parents can then use this money to send their child to whatever public, private or parochial school that they feel will best suit their child. And they can change schools whenever they wish.
School's will crop up all over the place. Some will be bad and some will be good. But the bad ones will eventually go out of business, since parents will stop sending their children there. And that's what will lead to educational improvement in our country.
If Congress would do the above items, our country would once again be leading the way to making a better world for all.
Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at

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