Congressional Cheat Codes

Senators Bill Frist and Judd Gregg have proposed the Stop Overspending Act, a piece of legislation that aims to:

First, […]give President Bush the line item veto. Pork thrives in Washington because it can be tucked away inside massive appropriation bills without any public deliberation or meaningful transparency. But, armed with special, fast-track procedures guaranteeing an up-or-down vote in Congress to specific spending cuts that the President proposes, we can subject pork barrel spending to the bright light of public scrutiny. Governors in 43 states have the line item veto and so should President Bush.
Second, the Stop Over-Spending Act would also put the American government on a two-year budget cycle – a proposal that I’ve strongly supported ever since I first entered the Senate eleven years ago. The American people deserve careful oversight of their tax dollars. Yet, over 15% of all federal spending, $160 billion, takes place without oversight or even formal permission to be funded. And the Office of Management and Budget reports that over a quarter of all federal programs either don’t work or can’t show any evidence that they do. Under biennial budgeting, Congress would have more time to cut bad programs, expand good ones, and root out waste.
Third, the Stop Over-Spending Act would reestablish statutory caps for discretionary spending – enforced by automatic, across-the-board spending reductions – as well as mandate a cap on the federal deficit (as a percentage of our GDP) – ultimately enforced by automatic, across-the-board reductions in entitlement spending.

This sounds like a good start. However, I don’t think it goes nearly far enough – I think that Congressional spending should have to be budgeted the same way we average Americans budget: we spend the money we have and don’t spend the money we don’t have. If a fiscal year’s tax receipts fall short of projections, Congress should have to take that same amount out of the next year’s budget in order to account for the shortfall. If there’s a limit, earmarks will automatically be lessened, if not eliminated entirely, as Congresscritters will actually have to fight against other legislators in a zero sum game for a limited amount of money instead of chummily shaking hands and agreeing to raise the national debt ceiling yet again.
Their behavior is understandable, however, when viewed through the prism of videogames (stay with me here). Long-time videogame players will remember how frightfully hard Contra was on the original NES. With a scant 3 lives and 3 continues, even the most experienced and judicious of players was hard-pressed to beat the game. It took near-perfect play and an ability to make snap decisions about which powerups were worth going for and which it was best to avoid. However, once players found out about the Konami Code, this all changed. Armed with 10x the normal number of lives, players were far more likely to be cavalier about dying. They would take risks, go for that one last spread shot, etc. It certainly removed a lot of the pressure and frustration inherent in being limited to a mere 3 lives, while it also created lazier and less-skilled players.
Congress’ exceeding the nation’s tax receipts (i.e., running a deficit) is their version of the Konami Code – without it, they would have to be far more careful and thoughtful in their allocation of funds. The only way I see past this is to finally get ’em to disable the cheat codes and play the game the way it’s meant to be played.