The last time Congress successfully fulfilled its administrative duties was during my third term in Congress in 1996 for fiscal year (FY) 1997. At that time, all 12 regular appropriation bills to fund the federal government were enacted before the start of the new fiscal year, which begins October 1. Since then, we have been relying on continuing resolutions (CR) to fund the government. How can we stop the madness?

Just imagine if you failed to perform your job for 25 years, but still boldly requested a new service agreement every two to six years, per House or Senate re-election. Your boss may be impressed by your chutzpah, but he or she would likely laugh in your face and suggest you admit yourself into some other type of institution other than Congress.

This is a bipartisan problem. The mainstream media should be screaming daily about this, demanding that members of Congress do the basics and informing Americans of their negligence in doing so.

Also, Americans should know that Congress has only $0.15 to every annual dollar to spend on discretionary items once massive spending for our military/national defense is removed. It was not always this way. We had more than 60 percent of our federal budget for discretionary items and federal government agencies.

What has changed? Our national debt for one thing. It is out of control. As of today, our debt has ballooned to more than $28 trillion. It first eclipsed $1 trillion in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was president and Joe Biden was a senator. Our national debt is a bipartisan failure.

Of the $4.4 trillion federal budget of 2019, most of the dollars spent went toward mandatory entitlements, which accounted for nearly 62 percent of the whole. These entitlements — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid being the largest — must be paid to those eligible to receive them.

Then we must attend to our massive debt, which grows by the second. This debt accounts for about 8 percent of our entire budget. Defaulting on our debt payments is not an option.

That leaves 30 percent for discretionary spending. Oh, remember, about 15 percent of the 30 percent is spent on our national defense. That leaves us with a dime and five pennies, or, if you prefer, three nickels. Not good.


1. Make the funding of the government and all budgetary matter biennial. Congress has more than proven that it cannot do the job on an annual basis. With an additional 12 months, hopefully, it can be accomplished on time via regular order and frequent Open Rules on the House floor for rigorous debate.

2. Seriously discuss entitlements, the elephant in the room. They cannot be allowed to eat up most of our yearly budget, despite the obligations to our fellow Americans, who did nothing to deserve ill treatment or a severely diminished quality of life.

3. The people who deserve admonishment are our politicians. Today, yet another potential federal government shutdown looms. The high drama over passing a budget, passing spending bills, funding the government, and the lifting of the debt ceiling has gone on for far too many years.

Congress and the White House should be able to at least complete the basics of governing smoothly or be forced to do so by risk of a personal penalty or fine.

The three triggers for punishing members of Congress should be related to the three most basic parts of their job — passing a budget, funding the federal government under regular order, and managing the debt status of the United States.

We should fine all the members of Congress and the president if they are unable to do the basic parts of their jobs.

How hefty should the fine be? How should the fine be levied to ensure fairness? Some members of Congress are multimillionaires and a fine too small would cause them to ignore it. On the other hand, some members are living paycheck to paycheck, so a fine too large would likely cripple them.

The solution is to make it a percentage of their adjusted gross income (AGI) from their most recent federal tax return. This would make it fair. Make the fine equal to 10, 15 or 20 percent of their AGI payable to a nonprofit like the United Way of America.

The result? Congressional gridlock would end. There would be a rebirth of compromise and bipartisanship. The work in Congress would get done.

Gary Franks is a former U.S. Representative from Connecticut and visiting professor/adjunct at Hampton University, Georgetown University and the University of Virginia. He is now a public policy consultant and columnist. Franks has written three books, including his most recent, “With God, For God and For Country,” and co-hosts the “We Speak Frankly” podcast with his son.

(24) comments


Tax the rich. Cut the military budget. It’s not rocket science.


SS is closer to a pyramid scheme than an investment. There are no "SS bonds" that one can buy nor is the SS money actually invested anywhere. It flows from one generation to another and with any luck, not raided by our buddies in Congress along the way.

That said, it does a good job doing its' original purpose of providing some payments to those who had low paying or no jobs during their working years. Any low income earner will receive income above their original payments much faster than those who had high paying jobs and paid into the 'system'.


Past administrations have borrowed from the Social Security trust fund and replaced it with USA Government Bonds that do pay interest. That is a profit for the fund. As for income, the three year average that is the highest does increase benefits and my good luck to have six years of much higher income just before I retired does mean I get more Social security money now. Enough more to keep me smiling. Look again. It is complicated.


Good points, Gary and thanks. The federal pension works the same with a 'High Three" calculation and I remember a talk where it was said one needed around a 2-3 million annuity to achieve the payments one would receive over their lifetime. The contribution is 7.5% of ones' salary without any upper limit.

The main difference is that the higher salaried people receive a higher monthly amount whereas SS is tilted towards providing more for the lower income people. I am glad for that.


Government bonds don't produce much income and are below a good mix of investments. In other words any social security investment is getting below the rates of return an average investor could/should make. It would take a lot to change social security but it would be better if the money from the taxes imposed on the workers and employers were invested in various markets since the governments investment time frame is in perpetuity and can weather any market downturns but benefit from market growth. This could give social security more money to pay disability and possibly raise the general retirement income of everyone. I know I would have done better had I been able to invest what social security taxed me and my employers. The more one earns above minimum wage the worse a deal social security is until one's wages rise to some point above the current maximum tax. A forced savings program should be better for a person not worse than if they had saved the money on their own. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against a social safety net, but this one is inefficient.


How about we start taxing at the levels during Reagan and perhaps cutting our military in half? That'd be a good start.


“…despite the obligations to our fellow Americans, who did nothing to deserve ill treatment or a severely diminished quality of life.” Yeah you will be retired one day too and you will have paid in and resent calling them “entitlements.” Old people don’t need more than a few crackers a day to live on. If they can’t afford meds, too bad.

Boyce Rensberger

Entitlement programs are not what has ballooned the debt. Tax cuts are a big factor that the columnist ignores.

Social Security has nearly $3 trillion in the bank. That's $3 trillion that it took in beyond what it has needed to pay out. That money is in a trust fund that is not counted as part of the main federal budget. Granted that surplus is now being whittled away because FICA income is less than SS outgo, partly for reasons others here have noted. The surplus will last for about ten or twelve years, at which point payments will shrink unless the FICA tax is increased before then.


Boyce - your comments are exactly right and counter the lies I hear that Congress "stole" money and it will never recovered. The USA has never defaulted on a bond. Why expect it to do so now? I suggest we collect more money now.


"never be recovered..." My bad.


I'm not sure fines would work, but another approach probably would. Change the pension system from a defined benefit to a defined contribution. Tie the annual contribution to the amount of the surplus. Deficit years would then get no pension contribution for that period. You would never see a deficit again.


OK, Gary. Let us reform the government spending (again). But just remember that an entitlement is something we have worked for and paid for or has been set in law by legislation. We own our entitlements. So the best way to fix them is to increase what people pay in. perhaps the income limits can be adjusted or removed. There are other solutions that involve CPI-E rather than the used CPI-W.

Other than that, it just takes some discipline and perhaps structure in Congress to get budgets proposed, negotiated and passed. They did it once. Why not now? Will it really take fines? And what if that is just one more tool for a lobby to pay for some favors in return? I had rather take money out of politics altogether. Now that will be a job.


Bingo. "Entitlements?" Used by opponents to SS and Medicare to make it sound like they were unearned and should be abolished, but we all paid $$$ into the system over our working lives. They've been bought and paid for, by you and by me.





Agreed up to a point Brookhawk. Yes, they have been bought. However they have not been paid for. The original 1935 SSI Act called for distribution of benefits to those over 65 years of age, when the mean expectancy was only 58 for men and 62 for women. Today's life expectancy for someone born in 2020 is 75.1 for men 80.5 for women. This significant increase in demand has far outstripped the ability to pay. Furthermore, the individual that receives SSI collects the amount they paid in within 3.5 years. After that it's negative cash flow. This cash flow deficit is exacerbated by the fact that the SSI contribution is capped at $127K, with no more contributed towards after that. The remedy is to either increase the retirement age to achieve a survival rate similar to that in 1935, and/or increase the amount of SSI deductions such that a retiree fully pays for their benefits (as they did in 1935), and/or remove the cap for SSI payments, requiring the wealthy to pay for a benefit that they don't need and will never use.


People pay for health insurance and the very lucky ones never use it. Others buy annuities and collect much more than they pay in. It is not always pay for what you get. I bought an small annuity with my Federal savings program and already have collected more than I paid in. The rest is profit, I guess.


That doesn't address the issue Gary, which is a significant and unsustainable revenue shortfall. Either funding must increase, or eligibility must be put off. Whose ox gets gored here?


Gabe; I support lifting the wage cap and increasing the retirement age. The latter may hurt segments of society where the life expectancy is significantly lower than average so that may be trickier, but the cap should definitely be raised (or removed altogether).


For many years now, there has been work to redefine "entitlement" to suggest it is a gift. Some has come from very divergent sources and some is quite innocent and apart from Social security. If you are interested look at the dictionary definitions of entitlement. Even Wikipedia has changed its definitions.


Social security is basically a forced insurance policy that gets below market rate interest for the policy holders. I'm not against a savings program but it might be better if the government put the revenue from the taxes into the broad markets. The government will not be significantly impacted by the volatility of the market and should be able to pay out more than it does now.


Interesting article on the ROI


TomWheatly, I think that article basically supports what I've said despite it saying social security is a good investment. First it is not clear whether it calculates ROI based on the workers tax or the combined tax of the worker and company. If it is only based on the worker's contribution then the ROI should be cut in half to represent the true return. Social security was a better investment in the past than it is now. The article also wrongfully states it is a risk free investment. My investment took a hit when Congress changed the retirement age from 65 to 67. The article you cite states "a medium-earning single female born in 1943 can expect a 2.49 rate of return compared with 2.09 percent for her male counterpart. ... A very low-income couple born in 1943 will receive a 6.79 percent annual return, compared with 3.92 percent for their high-earning counterparts...." Not good returns especially since more people are choosing not to get married. SO, more and more single people are subsidizing married people under social security. What they don't print is the low rate of return for men in the high-earning category which is the lowest rate of return. I'd be curious to know what income level is considered high-earning as I suspect I was in that category towards the end of my working career (maybe even earlier).




Framing matters. The conservatives are keen to call SS "entitlements" because they are slowly trying to turn you against the idea.

SS is an earned benefits program. It is money that is rightfully yours and that you paid for. They want to privatize it so that they can loot it. Always remember that with the framing.

Low and behold, the writer's political ideology lines right up with the people trying to privatize SS.


We don't "own" our entitlements as much as you think. Congress can change the rules anytime they want and have done so in the past. Social Security is an expensive insurance policy as was never meant to be someone's sole source of income in retirement. If I were allowed to have invested the money in stock and bond funds that mimic the market, I'd have had mush more money available for retirement then social security will provide when I'm eligible for full retirement at 67 (not 65 as was once promised to us). We'd have more money if the government took the FICA taxes and invested it. Since they would invest it in perpetuity, there would be money available to pay out the benefits during any economic downturns.

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