[EM] [RangeVoting] line item veto

Jan Kok jan.kok.5y at gmail.com
Mon Mar 6 23:12:39 PST 2006

I'm posting this to the EM list since I think this is of broader
interest than just RV.

On 3/6/06, warren_d_smith31 <wds at math.temple.edu> wrote:
> The reason the line-item veto was ruled unconstitutional is the same reason
> that "earmarks" and "pork" have so dominated the workings of congress:
> if the President had this power, he could systematically veto pork only
> for opposition-party members, thus assuring their defeat and single-party
> dominance - starting a process which might well lead to his
> promotion to "emperor" rather than "president."   (This promotion is probably the
> most common way in which democracies have fallen throughout history.)

I hadn't thought or heard of that before, but I think you are right
that the line-item veto could (and probably would!) be misused in this

> But the President is correct that pork and earmarks are out of control.
> I believe the right solution is to change the congressional budget process to one I call
> "voting with money."  Each congressman would be given a certain number of
> pseudo-dollars to allocate among the proposed budget items in any way he wishes.
> Budget items acquiring less than some percentage of their threshholds would be
> eliminated and their moneys (and excess moneys above item-threshholds)
> returned, and the process would continue.

What do you mean by item-thresholds?  How would they be set?  Would
there be lower and upper thresholds?

There are some budget items whose cost is accurately known, e.g.
paying interest on the national debt, or paying Social Security
benefits.  And there are some budget items, e.g. putting up a space
telescope, where one can come up with a plausible range of budget $
required to make those items happen.  However, a lot of the budget
items are quite flexible and/or unpredictable.  For example, how much
money do we want to spend on unemployment and welfare, on disaster
relief, on waging wars, and subsequent nation rebuilding?  I think the
usual approach to setting $ amounts is to take last year's budget and
increase it by 10% (since it is obviously such a great program,
whatever it is), or increase it by only 9% if one wants to posture as
being fiscally conservative, a budget cutter, cutting the budget to
the bone, etc.

>  Modern software
> would make this easy.  The new system would exhibit far more accountability
> (the public would actually know who authored what budget items and who voted
> for what with how many of their dollars), would enable far better control
> (actual public votes for items, as opposed to just one vote for the
> entire budget), and would enable following a schedule and balancing the budget
> for a change.  It also would alter pork-incentives.  Right now, party leaders
> can simply cram pork into a bill to try to manipulate some targeted legislator.
> In the new system, few would have incentive to vote for some pork item,
> so that wouldn't work as well.

Right now, it's "You vote for my pork and I'll vote for your pork." 
(It's called "logrolling".)  I don't see how Voting With Money really
helps.  In fact, it could encourage even more pork barrel spending,
because legislators would vote as few dollars as they dared on
"essential" items and as much as they dared on pork.

How can budgeting processes be set up to make the best, most efficient
use of the available money?  This is an important question, for both
governments and private companies.  A question that EM enthusiasts
might be more qualified than the general population to answer.

- Jan

For the benefit of the EM list, here is Abd ul-Rahman Lomax's reply to
Warrens post:

This resembles, in a way, what I called "The House of Money," for
want of a better term, as a way that FA/DP (Free
Association/Delegable Proxy) organizations would fund things.
Basically, the regular DP assembly would make policy decisions, but
funding would be a separate thing. Taxpayers would, through their
proxies, allocate their own taxes as they choose. A high-level proxy
would thus control the allocation of tax revenue generated by his or
her constituency.

Of course, it also differs from that. No taxpayer control would be
offered in what Warren has proposed, just a distribution of, I
presume, a portion of revenue, not related to the taxes paid by a
district, for discretionary spending by each district's
congressperson. It's an interesting idea. As the whole shebang, no,
for sometimes large expenditures are appropriately made in small
districts. But for a portion of revenue, fairly distributed pork. Or
negotiated sharing of federal spending on common projects.

On the other hand, if there is this money to be apportioned for "fair
pork," some, and particularly the party currently in power, would
want, instead, the money to stay in the districts by lowering taxes.

It is complicated, and I think the only way to bring it under control
is to organize outside of government. FA/DP is currently being
discussed on the Election Methods list.

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