Washington is bracing for its next political disaster: The debt-limit deal that President Obama just signed requires a “super-committee” composed of six Democrats and six Republicans to agree on at least $1.2 billion in deficit reduction, or else the country will see painful, across-the-board spending cuts. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says that he won’t appoint anyone to the super-committee who would be willing to raise federal taxes, and Grover Norquist is already working hard to enforce the GOP’s anti-tax orthodoxy. Stridency on the Republican side will attract a proportional response from Democratic leaders, who will only appoint representatives committed to resisting cuts in Medicare and Social Security.
Washington is broken. So why not get it out of the way by letting the people directly decide who sits on this super-committee?
Every half million or so Americans could elect a delegate. The states could be responsible for dividing the country into these 500,000-person constituencies, restraining the ability of Washington to interfere. Naturally, the number of people on the super-committee would increase, to about 435. Given the higher number of delegates, the super-committee would have to split into smaller committees, each with its own zone of responsibility — taxing, spending, policy for individual federal agencies.
Of course, one wouldn’t want such weighty decisions to rest on one popular vote taken at one point in time. So the states could also send two extra representatives each to sit in another body, which would be able to approve or reject the decisions of the super-committee. This second body shouldn’t be able to write the proposals on taxing and spending, but it’s reasonable to allow it to rewrite the policy once it arrives on its agenda.
Washington being the problem, the super-committee should convene far from its corrupting influence. We can carve out a small enclave in the middle of the country — near Wichita, perhaps — where the super-committee could meet. But only for so long; delegates should have plenty of time away from Wichita to hold town-hall meetings with constituents back home. For that matter, they should receive a healthy travel budget to attend fact-finding junkets in foreign countries, to examine how different fiscal arrangements are working “on the ground.”
With the stakes so high, public participation in delegate elections would have to be high, and engaged citizens would have to follow the work of the super-committee with care. They wouldn’t want any of those Washington elites in Congress insinuating themselves onto the super-committee. And, because of its structure, a spirit of cooperation and problem-solving would simply have to emerge as the people’s delegates sorted out the varying interests they represent, or else nothing would get done.
What could go wrong?