Diary

Let’s Change the Culture of “Mt. Washington”

Yesterday, I outlined some of the steps we need to take to change the culture of overspending, overborrowing and crony capitalism that dominates Washington D.C. This was my campaign’s first major policy speech precisely because if we can’t fix the culture of Washington, we can’t fix any of the other problems in our federal government.

We all know the problems: Failure isn’t punished; managers aren’t held accountable; politicians steer spending to favored causes, then leave office and take high-paid jobs for those same causes. We’ve seen abuses or incompetence at the IRS, the VA and the Office of Personnel Management – and hardly anyone gets fired.

The culture of Washington is so bad that even when it’s discovered that the EPA initiated a lobbying campaign on behalf of the rules it sought to propagate, nobody batted an eyelash. A government that lobbies for its own expansion is a government that is out of control – and I intend to change that.

It starts with firm control over the budget, and that will mean a Balanced Budget Amendment and a constitutionally viable line item veto. As governor of Florida, I delivered eight balanced budgets in eight years, and I got there because I had a line item veto I wasn’t afraid to use – I vetoed 2,500 items, saving $2 billion.

It continues with firm limits on the federal workforce. Everywhere in the economy, automation and technology are helping businesses do more with less. But not at the federal government. The last time we looked seriously at the labor rules for federal employees, Jimmy Carter was president. Things have changed, and so should the rules. Let’s start with this: We don’t hire a single new federal worker until three have left. Three for one is a good rule of thumb, and it’ll cut the federal workforce by more than 10% in my first term in office.

The other key culture-changer would hit Congress: They would have to report their meetings with all lobbyists, influence-seekers and others who make their living telling how Congress should think and vote. I’m not saying such meetings shouldn’t occur – that’s part of the democratic process. But the public has a right to know who is meeting their members of Congress, and when. This would go a long way to keeping some sunlight where Washington prefers to do business in the shadows.

There are other things we can do as well: Track how often members of Congress miss votes and other duties of office when Congress is in session, and dock their pay accordingly. Whether this will be enough to get all Senators and Congressmen to show up to vote and for committee meetings is debatable; but I’m sure that the vote on this law would be one they wouldn’t miss. And that would be revealing, too.

The key, as I see it, is this: Washington won’t change until the federal government is given less to spend and we have more rules for the rule makers. When Congress is in session, its work should be done in the open as much as possible, and every member of Congress should be hard at the job, doing the people’s business. That’s not too much to ask, but apparently, it would shake Washington to its foundations. If so, that’s a good thing – and if I am elected president, Washington should get used to the sensation.