True Fiscal Sanity
Ah, here comes the balanced budget amendment again. As a replacement for the absurd one cooked up by a group of republican senators for hypocritical publicity, I'd like to offer one that would actually work:
The test: The measured deficit at the end of each year is smaller than the previous year (or has managed to actually turn into a surplus).
The penalty: If the deficit doesn't go down, members of congress don't get to run for reelection.
You see how simple that is? No constitutional crisis. No federal courts writing the budget for the country. Either we start running a surplus and paying down the debt, or we get rid of the ineffective deadwood in congress who preach fiscal conservatism (but only when democrats are in the White House) yet spend like drunken sailors. Either result is equally good for the country.
Personally, I'd accompany this constitutional amendment with a reformed budget process. Instead of a small clique of lawmakers getting to control what goes in, everyone in Congress gets to treat the budget like a personal wish list. They rate the importance of individual line items, and say how much they think each line needs, all the the light of day. If some Senator thinks 2 billion dollars for a new airport to be used by him going back and forth to his home state (and just about no one else) is more important than money for readiness training for soldiers, then the people who voted for him get to see his priorities as well, and maybe even ask why. No lobbyists inserting text no one has seen. Every member of Congress (and the public watching them) work from the same base document.
But best of all is the new budget resolution process, where all the items are tallied by computers and the collective importance is computed. By magic, all the turkeys will almost certainly wind up as low priority since only one congresscritter said it was vitally important, and you'll be left with the most important line items being the ones everyone agrees on. Then you decide how much you have to spend (while trying to insure the deficit goes down so you can stay in office), and you start parceling out the money based on the collective importance of the items in the budget. When you run out of money, everything left is cut from the budget. Even more important is the fact that the revenue and deficit projections need to be really accurate because congressional careers depend on not guessing wrong about the size of the deficit, so Miss Rosy Scenario will be dismissed from the Congressional Budget Office.
After all that, the congresscritters can go home and show the folks how high they put their pet turkeys on the list, but say there just wasn't enough money to pay for them and no one could have done any better for the home folks. This will make sense to the people, because most of them have had to fore go something they wanted due to lack of cash, so it is a familiar concept.
Imagine that: Actual fiscal conservatism, yet you can still get reelected by telling the people the truth in a way they can understand it. A veritable revolution in politics!
See all the rest of my brilliant political ideas here.