Mike Kueber's Blog

September 19, 2010

A three-pronged conservatism – balanced budget, national sales tax, and term limits

My friend Kevin Brown listens to more talk radio than any person I know, and he agrees with almost everything he hears.  That is why I can get the pulse of conservative America by simply having a few drinks with Kevin every Tuesday.  If I had listened to Kevin more during my congressional campaign, I would have known (a) it’s not a good idea for a Republican candidate to be in favor of separation of church & state, and (b) it’s an oxymoron to call yourself a progressive conservative.      

This past Tuesday, Kevin reminded me that America is going to hell, but all can be saved if we adopt a balanced budget amendment, a national sales tax, and a term-limit amendment.  All three of these ideas have been around for years, but it surprised me that Kevin thought they were so critical.  I agree that requiring a balanced budget would be a monumental improvement, but the sales-tax and term-limit issues don’t seem like game-changers.  Upon further reflection, however, I have to agree with Kevin.  Adoption of these ideas would change D.C. as we know it.

What are their prospects for passage?  The Balanced Budget amendment was a part of the Republican Party’s Contract with America in 1994, and although it passed the House (300-132), it barely failed in the Senate (65-35, with two-thirds required).  All Republicans in the Senate, but not enough Democrats supported the change.  The Tea Party has included the Balanced Budget amendment in its new Contract from America, so there is a chance the idea will be voted on again.  Hope springs eternal, although the Democrats will surely monolithically resist it again.

Personally, I think the adoption of a national sale tax in lieu of an income tax is too risky, and Mitt Romney has clearly described those risks in his recent book, No Apologies.  But we live in a democracy, and most people prefer a sales tax to an income tax, so I think their representatives should give them what they want.  We just enacted a law (ObamaCare) that affects one-seventh of the U.S. economy, so I think we can manage a shift from the income tax to a national sales tax.  The Contract with America in 1994 did not include a plank for tax reform, but the Tea Party’s current Contract from America contains a plank for a simplified, single-rate tax system.  I’m not sure if that is referring to a national sales tax or a flat income tax.  Because of Tea Party sponsorship, I’m sure the Democrats would steadfastly resist this concept and would argue that because it lacks progressivity, it would be unfair to lower-income people.

The final plank in Kevin’s platform is the adoption of term limits.  This issue was a part of the Republican’s Contract with America in 1994.  Although the proposed constitutional amendment received a 227-204 majority in the House, this was well short of the 290 votes needed to achieve the two-third super-majority required for constitutional amendments.  Term limits were considered for inclusion in the Tea Party’s Contract from America, but according to party leaders, the idea finished 11th in popularity and only the top ten were included in the final document. 

I have a hard time believing that Tea Party people didn’t give term limits a higher priority.  There was a recent Fox New poll revealing that 78% of Americans want Congressional term limits, and this desire cut across party lines – Republicans (84 percent), Democrats (74 percent) and independents (74 percent) favor the idea.  Furthermore, in November of 2009, a bill for a constitutional amendment in the Senate was introduced by Senators Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.).  So hope springs eternal again. 

As I previously mentioned, Democratic opposition to a national sales tax is not surprising because it would be a regressive tax.  And its opposition to term limits is consistent with its belief that a career in elective office is a high calling.  They prefer professional politicians to citizen legislators.  But I don’t understand why the Democrats oppose balancing the budget.  They are quick to note that Bill Clinton balanced the budget for several years, yet they inexplicably don’t want a balanced budget as a core value. 

It appears my friend Kevin has gravitated to three winning issues.  Maybe he’s a big picture guy like Reagan.  Maybe he should be the one who runs for office instead of me.  Reagan got a late start, too.