Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Scyller Borglum is offering something her primary opponent, incumbent Senator Marion Michael Rounds, has failed to produce in his five years in Washington: a plan to reduce the federal debt. Borglum’s “Wooden Nickel” plan—so named, it appears, because it involves the number 5 and because Borglum wants to allude to the imaginary money Rounds votes for to fund Il Duce‘s whims—would combine an arbitrary spending cap with a nationwide budget referendum:
The Wooden Nickel plan is simple. When elected, I will work relentlessly to pass legislation to ensure Congress stays within 5% of the previous year’s discretionary budget. If the budget comes in so much as .01% over the 5% cap then a national vote is automatically triggered. This empowers the people to decide if the increase is justified, and strips a little bit of power away from congress, which we know needs to happen [Scyller Borglum, press release, 2019.08.22].
The CBO projects FY2019 federal outlays will be 7.25% greater than last year’s. The CBO projects increases greater than 5% in four of the next ten years, but the average projected growth through FY2029 would be 4.93%. Hmm… is a 5% cap on budget growth enough to bend the curve?
The 5% threshold is simple—too simple, because arbitrary spending caps reduce the government’s ability to respond to emergencies that require deficit spending. I’d love to limit increases in my household spending to 5%, but when we find termites or someone goes to the hospital, we don’t call a family plebiscite; we call the bank, get a loan, take care of the problem, and pay it off with interest.
The national vote is not simple. I love referenda and participatory budgeting, but Borglum is calling for a decision-making mechanism that does not exist and may require a Constitutional amendment to authorize voters to (a) vote on something other than the Presidency and (b) exercise appropriations power currently held exclusively by Congress (although the Supreme Court has ruled that Constitutional limitation irrelevant, so why not?). Congress would need to pass a budget months a head of time in order to allow states to print ballots and arrange for a budget vote. Since the fiscal year begins on October 1, we’d have to call a special election, even in even years, unless we’re willing to see more budgeting by continuing resolution.
Of course, it’s funny that Borglum is calling for more public voting, since she voted twice with most of her party in Pierre last winter for House Bill 1094, which severely curtails the ability of South Dakotans to put important matters to a vote. Borglum’s federal budget referendum proposal also contradicts South Dakota’s prohibition on referring any state appropriations to a statewide vote. Hmm… maybe Borglum will see the light, come visit the People Power Petition booths at the Central States Fair and the State Fair to promote grassroots democracy, and promise to offer legislation in Pierre first to reform South Dakota’s Legislatively besieged initiative and referendum process. More democracy starts at home, Representative Borglum!
Borglum isn’t selling Wooden Nickels yet in her new online campaign store, but maybe she’ll start handing out such budgetary tokens on the campaign trail.