10 Elements of Comprehensive Budget Process Reform

by Brian M. Riedl

CREATED IN 1974, THE CURRENT federal budget process has been subjected to over 30 years of abuse from lawmakers trying to exploit its structural flaws. Instead of providing an orderly roadmap for determining the nation’s annual spending and revenue priorities, the current budget process stifles debate, prevents cooperation, and frequently breaks down.

The flaws in the budget process are numerous. No statutory spending caps exist that require lawmakers to set priorities and make trade-offs. Even modest congressional budget restraints are routinely overridden by a simple majority vote in the House of Representatives and a three-fifths vote in the Senate. When crafting annual budgets, the President and Congress are not brought together to agree on a basic framework until the end of the process. Once the appropriations process begins, two-thirds of the budget is deemed “uncontrollable” and excluded from the oversight of annual appropriations. Emergency spending is also typically excluded from annual appropriations bills and is instead relegated to ad hoc budgeting outside of normal budget constraints. Static tax scoring and baseline budgeting create biases in favor of spending increases and against tax cuts. Budgeting by credit card, Congress does not even measure its own long-term financial commitments. Overall, the broken budget process has enabled Congress’s spending spree and hindered rational allocation of taxpayer dollars.

While the entire budget process needs an overhaul, three reforms deserve priority attention.

● Enact government-wide statutory spending caps that force lawmakers to set priorities and make trade-offs. These caps should apply to both entitlement and discretionary spending.

● Begin measuring the federal government’s long-term unfunded obligations, particularly in Social Security and Medicare. Congress should also pass rules against adding to these unfunded obligations and then develop a plan to address the $44 trillion in current debt and unfunded social insurance obligations.

● Strengthen budget rule enforcement by closing the plethora of loopholes that currently render most budget restraints meaningless.

The following list provides ten elements for reforming the federal budget process. Most ideas are drawn from the think tank community, as well as Congress.

#1 Statutory Spending Caps

Establish a Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights That Caps Spending. The most promising budget reform would be to cap federal spending increases at the inflation rate plus population growth (economic growth rates could be another, albeit looser, target). Lawmakers could allocate federal spending however they wish as long as total government growth does not exceed this predetermined rate. Such a cap could save $3 trillion over the next decade by forcing lawmakers to set priorities and to make trade-offs.

● Establish an Omnicap. Like a taxpayers’ bill of rights cap, an “omnicap” would apply a single cap to all federal spending (including mandatory). Rather than cap spending increases by a preset formula, lawmakers would manually set omnicap levels every few years, similar to the discretionary spending caps of the 1990s.

● Establish Discretionary Spending Caps. Discretionary spending caps successfully restrained discretionary spending while in effect from 1990 through 2002. Bringing back these caps would help to rein in federal spending, although lawmakers should improve on previous caps with supermajority enforcement and by closing the “emergency” loophole.

● Establish Entitlement Spending Caps. With entitlement spending projected to consume the entire federal budget eventually, the country cannot afford to allow entitlements to remain on autopilot. Lawmakers could write one cap for total entitlement spending or write a formula that would apply to each program individually (such as inflation plus growth in beneficiary population). This could be enforced by requiring Congress to reform excessive entitlement spending or face an across-the-board sequestration.

#2 Realistic and Honest Budget Scoring

● Account for Unfunded Liabilities in the Budget. While businesses compute their long-term liabilities, Congress does not. Budgets should include a calculation of all future explicit and implicit taxpayer liabilities and lawmakers should create a point of order against increasing these liabilities.

● Require Dynamic Scoring of Taxes. Currently, Congress evaluates tax policies by “static scoring,” a method that assumes changes to tax policy have almost no economic impact. History, economics, and common sense prove this assumption false. Dynamic scoring would more accurately estimate the economic and budgetary impact of tax changes.

End Baseline Budgeting. Baseline budgeting keeps entitlement spending on autopilot and creates the false impression that anything less than a large, previously assumed spending increase is a cut. That is a recipe for rapidly accelerating spending.

#3 Binding Budget Resolutions

● Pass the Annual Budget Resolution as a Law. The budget process begins every spring when Congress sets out a budget blueprint known as the budget resolution. The budget resolution sets overall spending and revenue levels, as well as spending levels for functional categories. The budget resolution is not a law, however. It is a voluntary framework that Congress imposes on itself. As such, appropriators can often get around the spending limits of the budget resolution. If the budget resolution were made law, then appropriators would not be able to ignore the spending limits. Also, if the budget resolution had to be voted up or down as a law—i.e., if it had to be presented to the President for signing—then the President and Congress would have an incentive to negotiate spending levels at the beginning of the process, rather than waiting until the very end to hash out any differences.

● Divide the Budget Resolution by Committee, Not Function. The budget resolution’s functional breakdowns have no binding effect and can be altered by the Appropriations Committees. Dividing the budget resolution’s discretionary spending by appropriations subcommittee makes more sense, especially since Congress uses this breakdown when filling in the discretionary budget.

#4 Enforcement of Existing Budget Rules

Require a Roll Call Vote to Waive a Point of Order. The House Rules Committee has routinely reported rules automatically waiving all points of order against excessive spending. Rules that can be so easily circumvented quickly become irrelevant.

● Require a Supermajority to Waive a Point of Order. Budget rules are supposed to prevent a simple majority from violating predetermined budget standards. Yet allowing the same simple majority in the House to vote to ignore its own rules effectively eliminates all enforcement. Raising the bar to three-fifths would make it harder to violate budget rules.

● Require a Caucus Majority to Waive a Point of Order. If the majority party fears a three-fifths requirement would give the minority party a veto on bypassing budget rules, they could enact an internal party rule requiring a majority vote of the caucus before bringing to the floor a motion to waive a point of order.

● Enforce Spending Limits. The Budget Committees should be empowered to enforce the budget resolutions that they write. Spending bills that exceed the budget resolution should be sent back to the Budget Committees for approval, modification, or rejection.

#5 Tools for Accountability

● Require a Roll Call Vote for Authorizations. Lawmakers often pass expensive authorization bills by voice vote, thus removing individual lawmaker accountability with voters. Roll call votes should be required to pass legislation authorizing $50 million or more over five years.

● Require a Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate for Every Bill. The CBO does not provide cost estimates for all bills and only rarely for conference reports. Lawmakers should always know the cost of a bill before they vote.

● Repeal the “Gephardt Rule.” House lawmakers should not be able to hide debt limit increases by automatically including them in the budget resolution. Lawmakers who truly believe in policies to increase federal debt should be willing to vote that way publicly.

● Limit the Tenure of Appropriators. Long-time appropriators have some of the highest spending records in Congress. Even appropriators who may wish to restrain spending are often required to vote for runaway spending to remain on the committee long enough to build seniority. Placing a term limit on membership on these committees would help to tear down the barrier between appropriators and other Members of Congress, and free appropriators to vote for less spending.

● Elect Appropriations Subcommittee Chairmen. Currently, only the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee is elected by his peers. Yet chairmen of appropriations subcommittees also have enormous power and have been accused of wielding that power in ways detrimental to Congress as a whole. Basic accountability requires that subcommittee chairmen also be elected by their peers in a caucus vote.

● Budget Biennially. Lawmakers rarely finish all budget bills by October 1, when the federal fiscal year begins. Biennial budgeting would free lawmakers to spend more time overseeing federal programs and reforming failed or unnecessary programs.

#6 Tools for Spending Restraint

● Include Entitlement Spending in the Appropriations Process. Entitlement program budgets are currently left on autopilot outside the normal budget process, growing each year with little or no congressional oversight. Bringing entitlements into the appropriations process would improve accountability and force lawmakers to set priorities and make trade-offs.

● Stop Advance Appropriations. Lawmakers can currently appropriate spending that does not become available until future years. This loophole encourages spending by making it appear free today. The justification that certain education programs need advance appropriations because of the school year’s unique calendar has been proven false.

● Create Family Budget Protection Accounts to Cut Spending on the Floor. Lawmakers who cut appropriations bills on the House or Senate floor typically see those savings automatically allocated to other spending. This reform would create a deficit reduction account to protect any such savings.

● Stop “Such Sums” Authorizations. Authorization laws are supposed to cap the amount that can be annually appropriated to particular programs. Authorizing “such sums as necessary”— which basically means no cap at all—ignores that duty and encourages runaway spending.

● Stop Funding Unauthorized Programs. Lawmakers continue to fund unauthorized programs despite their non-existent or expired statutory guidelines. If lawmakers cannot decide how to run a program, they should not fund it.

● Stop Adding to Unfunded Liabilities. Medicare and Social Security currently have $44 trillion in unfunded future liabilities. Lawmakers should not be able to put trillions of new spending on the credit card and then dump the payments in the laps of the next generation.

● Stop Entitlement Expansions. Entitlement expansions permanently push up the long-term spending baseline and worsen the fiscal picture. Lawmakers should create some roadblocks for these unaffordable policies.

● Enhance Presidential Rescission. President George W. Bush’s line-item veto proposal is actually an enhanced rescission bill that would require Congress to vote up or down on presidential rescission requests. This would provide another tool to rein in spending.

#7 Tools for Eliminating Wasteful Spending

● Stop Budget Increases for Agencies That Fail Audits. The Government Accountability Office has found that several federal departments and agencies cannot pass a basic audit. Lawmakers should not throw budget increases at agencies without sufficient evidence that the funding will not be wasted.

● Require Congressional Committees to Produce Public Oversight Reports. Congress is supposed to oversee the executive branch, but few congressional committees produce reports determining whether the agencies that they oversee are effectively and efficiently accomplishing their goals. Semiannual oversight reports would strengthen oversight.

● Require GAO Duplication Estimate for Each Bill. Even with 342 economic development programs, 130 programs serving the disabled, and 130 programs serving at-risk youth, Congress continues to add new programs on top of existing ones. A GAO duplication estimate could help lawmakers to streamline bureaucracy and reduce administrative confusion by reducing program duplication.

● Establish Government Waste Commissions. These commissions would write legislation eliminating wasteful and unnecessary programs that would receive expedited floor consideration and an up-or-down vote with no amendments allowed.

#8 Pork and Grant Reform

● Identify Legislative Sponsors of and Require Written Justifications for Each Earmark. Lawmakers should be required to specify why each earmark is necessary and constitutional and to disclose any personal or financial interests in the earmark.

● Require Earmarks to be Placed in the Bill Itself. Placing earmarks in conference reports, rather than in the bills themselves, prevents lawmakers from amending them out of legislation. No earmark should be placed in a category above congressional debate and amendment.

● Stop Earmarks Added in Conference Committees. Adding earmarks in last-minute conference committee reports prevents lawmakers from having sufficient time to scrutinize earmarks before voting on legislation. Lawmakers should be willing to add their earmarks in broad daylight.

#9 Rational Emergency Spending

● Define “Emergency.” Congress currently skirts budget constraints by classifying regular spending as “emergencies.” Lawmakers should limit emergency spending to only sudden, urgent, unforeseen, and temporary events.

● Require a Supermajority for Emergency Spending. To restrain lawmakers’ appetite for abusing the “emergency” designation, a three-fifths supermajority should be required to designate legislation as emergency, unless the funding comes from a designated emergency reserve fund.

● Create a Reserve Fund for Emergencies. Just as families are encouraged to keep emergency reserves, so should the federal government follow this sound practice. A good target would be 1.5 percent of discretionary budget authority ($12 billion today), with unused balances rolling over to the following year. This would prevent small-scale emergencies from busting the budget.

● Require Automatic Across-the-Board Emergency Offsets. This mechanism would automatically trigger an across-the-board budget rescission whenever emergency spending exceeded designated emergency reserve funds.

#10 Reduced Uncertainty

● Create an Automatic Continuing Resolution. Members of Congress have proven themselves increasingly incapable of finishing appropriations by the start of the new fiscal year (October 1). To reduce uncertainty, Congress should pass an automatic continuing resolution that funds federal programs at a rate slightly below the rate of the previous budget until the funding bills are enacted.


Out-of-control federal spending threatens to force massive tax increases. Furthermore, the Medicare and Social Security costs from the impending retirement of the baby boomers will place an unprecedented strain on the federal budget. The current budget process, which dates from the 1970s, makes addressing these budget challenges of the 21st century even more difficult. This antiquated budget process does not cap spending, does not force Congress to set priorities or to make trade-offs, and is heavily biased towards spending and tax increases. The options presented here can create a budget process that better matches America’s budget priorities.

Brian M. Riedl is Grover M. Hermann Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

Free Trade & American Prosperity

by Daniella Markheim and Anthony Kim

FOR OVER 50 YEARS, the United States and the world have reaped the economic benefits of gradual liberalization in trade and investment. Recognizing the benefits of open trade, the U.S. government has been a leading advocate of trade liberalization. Today however, the place of free trade in American policymaking is far from secure. Rising protectionist sentiment in the wake of the aborted United Arab Emirates ports deal, concern about the U.S.–China economic relationship, and frustration over the pace of global trade talks are combining to threaten trade liberalization, both in America and around the world.

In the coming months, Congress must steel itself against protectionism. It should objectively debate and then approve free trade agreements with Peru, continue to support U.S. leadership and negotiations for new bilateral agreements and in the World Trade Organization Doha Round, and resist the temptation of reactionary protectionism. Congressmen who talk about punitive tariffs or restrictive investment measures without actually intending to enact them still inflame public opinion. Congress would do well to spend more time recognizing the prosperity that exists in America as a result of free trade and pushing for further trade reforms.

As former U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said: “We all must fight the protectionist forces with the facts, which show that benefits from trade are substantial.” Today, the $12 trillion U.S. economy is bolstered by free trade, a pillar of America’s vitality. According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, American exports support one in five U.S. manufacturing jobs. Jobs directly linked to the export of goods pay 13 to 18 percent more than other U.S. jobs. Moreover, agricultural exports hit a record high in 2005 and now account for 926,000 jobs.

In Colorado, international trade supports one of every 20 private-sector jobs and more than 20 percent of manufacturing jobs. Data from the International Trade Administration show that South Carolina benefits from having one of every ten private-sector jobs and more than 25 percent of manufacturing jobs supported by trade. State by state, across the nation, international trade promotes opportunity.

Because today’s global economy offers unparalleled opportunities for the United States, it is in America’s economic interest to continue to expand trade by lowering barriers to trade in goods and services. Freer trade policies have created a level of competition in today’s open market that leads to innovation and better products, higher-paying jobs, new markets, and increased savings and invest- ment. Small businesses, a critical component of the U.S. economy, create two out of every three new jobs and account for about a quarter of America’s exports.

Trade has been a driving force in producing America’s high living standards, and breaking down more trade barriers would increase these standards even further. Gary Clyde Hufbauer of the Institute for International Economics estimates that trade liberalization over the last 50 years has brought an additional $10,000 per year to the typical American household. If all trade barriers were eliminated and global trade and investment became truly free, Hufbauer estimates that American households would gain an additional $5,000 per year. According to a University of Michigan study, if today’s international trade barriers were reduced by just a third, the average American family of four would enjoy $2,500 per year in additional income.

Freer trade enables more goods and services to reach American consumers at lower prices, giving families more income to save or spend on other goods and services. Moreover, the benefits of free trade extend well beyond American households. Free trade helps spread freedom globally, reinforces the rule of law, and fosters economic development in poor countries. A Center for Global Development study determined that a successful conclusion to the Doha Round would result in an additional $200 billion flowing to developing nations, reducing poverty and economic hardship. The national debate over trade too often ignores these important benefits.

More generally, economic freedom leads to higher standards of living. According to The Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom, countries with freer trade policies experience higher per capita economic growth than countries that maintain trade barriers. Countries that opened their trade policies between 1995 and 2004 saw their per capita gross domestic product grow at an average compound rate of 2.5 percent. Countries whose trade policies were unchanged experienced an average compound growth rate of 2.1 percent. Finally, countries that increased their barriers to trade managed only a 1.8 percent average compound growth rate.

Despite more than five decades of evidence demonstrating the benefits of liberalizing trade, the impact of international trade and open markets on the U.S. economy remains a contentious issue. Fortunately, in past battles, free trade won the day, providing greater economic opportunity to Americans and allowing the United States to maintain its role as a leader in the international economic community. Defending free trade and fighting for new trade agreements are central tasks for Congress in coming months. Expanding global trade is one of the keys to building a stronger economy at home and promoting better relationships abroad. Trade is one of keys to American prosperity.

Daniella Markheim is Jay Van Andel Senior Analyst in Trade Policy, and Anthony B. Kim is Research Data Specialist, in the Center for International Trade and Economics at The Heritage Foundation.

The Case for Patriotic Assimilation

by Matthew Spalding

THE AMERICAN THEORY OF CITIZENSHIP necessitates that the words immigration and assimilation be linked in our political lexicon and closely connected in terms of public policy: Where there is one, there must be the other.

A policy of homogeneity—the complete breaking down of cultural differences to create sameness—demands too much and requires a uniformity that is impracticable, going beyond what is necessary and conducive to free government. Such an unrealistic ideal makes immigration, in both theory and practice, virtually impossible. Multiculturalism, at the other extreme, is unacceptable for the opposite reason: It claims that all cultures (as with all values) are equally valid; there can be nothing substantially in common between Americans because the only thing that unites them is their diversity. By this argument, any idea of citizenship that goes beyond its narrowest technical meaning to imply the existence or formation of a common creed is objectionable because it imposes our values on others. In the end, the very idea of allegiance, especially national or patriotic, is problematic. At best, we are all transnational citizens of the world.

Each of these views—what amounts to cultural determinism, on the one hand, and cultural relativism, on the other—is incompatible with self-government and the rule of law. Both deny the possibility of a people holding common principles despite their cultural differences.

It is assimilation—the idea of acquiring certain habits and attitudes while respecting other differences, of becoming similar in crucial but not all respects—that is consistent with the American understanding of both human equality and popular consent, and thus civil and religious liberty. Assimilation has nothing to do with forcing a stifling uniformity of opinions and passions upon immigrants. Nor is it about destroying the ethnic heritages and cultural identities of the various groups and diverse subcultures that have always been part of the American experience. What it does do is appeal to the common principles and mutual understandings that transcend these differences and that bind us together as one people. Indeed, it is the maintenance of what we hold in common that allows for the flourishing of our differences and prevents the American “melting pot” from becoming a boiling cauldron of multiculturalism.

This compatibility in principle, though, portends a certain degree of uncertainty in practice; hence the challenge of immigrant education. This is because the progression from alien to citizen is more a change of mind and heart than a mere activity or replicable skill set. As a result, assimilation, while it is to be encouraged and promoted, and while certain meaningful elements can and should be required in the naturalization process, ultimately can’t be compelled. It, too, is a matter of consent; in the end, immigrants must choose to become Americans. This point is further strengthened by the fact that while government has certain key responsibilities, many of the more important activities associated with assimilation occur on their own, beyond the reach of the state, as if by some “invisible hand” of American civil society.

It is the responsibility of lawmakers to set the legal parameters and create the best possible conditions for successful immigrant assimilation. The basic components that are necessary for such a policy should be apparent from this analysis of the early understanding of the theory and practice of citizenship and naturalization.

A Meaningful Naturalization Process

Individuals who are not citizens do not have a right to American residency or citizenship without the consent of the American people as expressed through the laws of the United States. Through its laws, the people of the United States consent for those who are aliens to join them, under certain conditions, as residents and in many cases as fellow citizens. Congress has the constitutional responsibility both “to establish an uniform rule of naturalization” that sets the terms and conditions of immigration and citizenship and to ensure the fairness and integrity of the legal process by which immigrants enter the country, establish residency, and gain citizenship. Especially for the sake of those who obey the law and follow the rules to enter the country, naturalization laws must be equitably and consistently enforced.

At the same time, this authority should also be seen as an opportunity to make the naturalization process more meaningful, emphasizing the laws’ and the process’s intended role in forming citizens “of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States,” as it says in the Immigration and Nationality Act. This can be done by emphasizing the educational, ceremonial, and symbolic aspects of naturalization over and above the mere technical efficiencies of the bureaucratic process. A renewed emphasis on the terms of citizenship also demands rethinking and clarifying, both in our political rhetoric and within the law, the limits of citizenship, and that includes addressing the growing problem of “dual allegiance” citizenship and the conditions under which naturalized citizens (and native-born citizens, for that matter) violate those terms and might be expatriated.

An Understanding of the Principles of Free Government

“Every species of government has its specific principles,” Jefferson noted. “Ours perhaps are more peculiar than those of any other in the universe.” Citizenship education occurs primarily at home and through childhood schooling. Without the natural advantage of having been born and raised in this country, immigrants as a matter of public policy must be given a specific education in the history, political ideas, and institutions of the United States. They must know who we are and what we believe as a people and a nation. They must know that legitimate government is grounded in the protection of equal natural rights and the consent of the governed—the principles of the Declaration of Independence—and must understand and appreciate how the Constitution and our institutions of limited government work to protect liberty and the rule of law.

That is why, by law, citizen candidates must demonstrate “a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, and the principles and form of government, of the United States.” This knowledge is demonstrated by a history test for new citizens, a test which should be reevaluated and strengthened with this goal in mind; at the same time, immigrants should be prepared for the test with educational materials and classes. The objective, as the great educator Noah Webster put it, is to implant in the mind “the principles of virtue and of liberty and inspire them with just and liberal ideas of government and with an inviolable attachment to their own country.” History fosters attachment, and attachment— a necessary precondition to sustained civic engagement—fosters patriotism. But as constitutional signer James Wilson reminds us, “Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.”

A Common Language

“The bond of language,” Alexis de Tocqueville observed, “is perhaps the strongest and most lasting that can unite men.” Republican government and ordered liberty—not to mention the articulation of common political principles—require clear communication, mutual deliberation and civic education, and that demands that citizens share one common language. English is that language in the United States. This doesn’t necessarily require that English be the official or exclusive language of the nation, but it does mean that English needs to be the primary and authoritative language, particularly in public and political discourse as well as the laws, records and proceedings of government.

To comprehend the naturalization process, to assimilate into American society, and to become involved in our democracy, immigrants must learn, understand, and be able to communicate in English. Thus, candidates for citizenship must demonstrate “an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language.” Rather than encouraging the retention of native languages with programs like bilingual education, there should be incentives and programs to assist immigrants in learning English. The objective should be to build a nation of English speakers: “[T]o preserve a sameness of language throughout our own wide spreading country,” John Marshall noted, “that alone would be an object worthy of public attention.”

Engaged Character-Forming Institutions

America’s principles are the defining characteristic of its national identity, but that identity is sustained by a thriving civil society. From the very beginning, America’s creed and culture have developed together, nourishing each other for their common good. It is not surprising, then, that candidates for citizenship must show that “they have been and still are of good moral character.” In the law, this condition is defined by that which would preclude a finding of good moral character: as being a habitual drunkard; a gambler or polygamist; convicted of or admitting to a crime of moral turpitude; involved in prostitution, smuggling, or drug trafficking; giving false testimony or failing to support dependents. A healthy and supportive social infrastructure is necessary to maintain and strengthen good character. Thus, one of the best ways to assist immigrants is to strengthen and involve faith-based and private civil society institutions, both directly and indirectly, in the cause of assimilation.

It should be a concern when large numbers of immigrants from the same country, speaking the same foreign language, and with many of the same habits live in enclaves isolated from American society. After all, it is the diffusion of immigrant groups among the population—not the mixing per se but their day-to-day interactions with native American citizens—that makes their political effect less discordant and their assimilation more likely. It is through their neighbors, friends, and fellow countrymen—in local communities, churches, schools, and private organizations, not to mention in the workplace and through simple economic exchanges—that immigrants acquire the habits, practices, and spirit of Americans, strengthening their virtues, their work ethic, and social responsibilities. Civic education in particular is strengthened as immigrants observe and then participate in American political life, seeing equality before the law and consent being translated into local, state, and national policies. In this way, as Washington predicted, immigrants “get assimilated to our customs, measures and laws: in a word, soon become one people.”

Economic Opportunity

While it will come as no surprise that most individuals and families that immigrate to the United States come seeking economic opportunity (“inspired with an assurance of encouragement and employment,” just as Hamilton forecasted), it should not be overlooked that economic opportunity—stable employment, better household income, job flexibility, property ownership, upward mobility—is also an important factor in the success of immigrant assimilation. The fruits of hard work and entrepreneurship for the sake of improving the conditions of self and family, combined with the opportunities that have long been associated with the pursuit of the American Dream, all good in and of themselves, have the added virtue of harnessing self-interest to bind immigrants to their new home—the proximate cause of their economic liberty—and help to equalize the social differences between immigrants and native citizens.

In this way, commerce provides the initial glue of attachment, even if it remains “the defect of better motives,” to use Madison’s formulation in Federalist No. 51. For their sake, and for our own, the best thing we can do for new citizens is to offer them a hand up rather than a handout and make sure that immigrants (especially poor and low-skilled immigrants) are not drawn into the ranks of the underclass by the perverse incentives of the modern welfare state and its policies that discourage self-reliance, family cohesiveness, and financial independence.

National Allegiance

“Citizens by birth or choice, of a common country,” Washington reminds us, “that country has the right to concentrate your affections.” The very word citizen, stemming from the Latin civis and the Greek polis, is associated with membership and participation in one particular political association, as city-state, polity, or, today, nation. American citizenship is by definition bound to the United States; thus, becoming a citizen of the United States necessarily means primary allegiance to the American political order or regime. Allegiance is the duty that citizens owe to that country which protects and secures their individual freedoms and fundamental rights. In the United States, the allegiance of citizenship stems in particular from a profound attachment and deference not to political leaders or some abstract state, but to the Constitution and the rule of law.

This is seen in the solemn oath of new citizens to “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or a citizen,” to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic” and “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” As the culmination of the naturalization process (the taking of the oath is the moment that the foreigner becomes a citizen), the importance and substantive meaning of these historic words cannot be overestimated. Not only should the oath be promulgated, its meaning taught in the naturalization process, and new citizens held to its pledges, but the concept of allegiance should be promoted as a central part of the public rhetoric of citizenship. “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship,” to quote Washington again. Yet the United States “requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

Making Patriots

By these conditions, an effective naturalization process would aim to create new citizens who would understand the principles of free government, speak a common language, reflect good character and civic virtue, and have a real stake in America’s economic success. As a result, immigrants would become more than mere inhabitants living in isolated communities. They would be Americans, drawing their primary national identity from the United States, even as they retained their ancestors’ language and culture. They would become citizens in the fullest sense of the term, owing their allegiance to their new homeland, sharing in the political rights of its people, deserving its protection, entitled to—and celebrating—the privileges and opportunities of free government.

Assimilation is necessarily patriotic in the sense that it fosters not only “that temperate love of liberty, so essential to real republicanism,” to use Hamilton’s phrase, but also a genuine attachment to this country and to these people. The objective is not “my country, right or wrong,” but “my country.” That is, for the immigrant to come to regard this nation as my country. The goal is an enlightened patriotism based on an understanding of and commitment to America, what it stands for, and who we are as a people.

As well, assimilation is patriotic in that it reflects our national self-confidence and is a measure of our commitment to America. How can we expect the immigrant to love America if we do not love it ourselves—if we do not strive to make it worthy of affection? Reviving and deepening our understanding of citizenship and strengthening the conditions for civic formation is a way to remind all, native and immigrant alike, why this regime—its principles and laws, its history and statesmen, its meaning and promise—is good and worth defending. It is in this sense that a policy of assimilation demands as much or more from Americans as it does from those who want to become American.

In the end, a confident policy to assimilate immigrants must be understood as part of a larger renewal of our principles, a reaffirmation of what we hold to be self-evident. After all, it is not the technical requirement to affirm a peculiar set of historical claims that ties immigrants to America as much as it is our common recognition of transcendent truths that bind us all together and across time to the patriots of 1776.

In 1858, less than three years before the outbreak of civil war and the gravest crisis in our history, Abraham Lincoln contemplated the meaning of citizenship and the natural attachment of a people to the land of their forefathers. But what of those others “whose ancestors have come hither and settled here”? Why should they become attached to some distant past to which they have no native connections?

What Lincoln said then of all those who were not blood descendants of the Founders, which is to say virtually everyone today, speaks to all of us:

If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.

Matthew Spalding, Ph.D., is Director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

A Time to ‘Tank’

by Matthew J. Brouillette

THINK TANKS ARE SEEMINGLY conflicted institutions. As nonpartisan, nonprofit educational organizations dedicated to researching and developing public policy solutions, we do not and we cannot legally engage in electoral politics. Yet, at the same time, our success as institutions is fully dependent on politicians to bring our policy ideas to fruition. So how do we, as think tanks, effectuate policy and ideological change when we can’t and don’t engage in direct political action.

At 2:00 a.m. on July 7, 2005, we at the Commonwealth Foundation—Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank—had to answer that question. It was on this night, in the wee hours of the morning, that the Republican-dominated Pennsylvania General Assembly decided to make themselves the highest paid state lawmakers in the nation—and violate the state Constitution in the process. In the days and weeks following that fateful night, the Commonwealth Foundation had to decide how to weigh in on the civic crisis.

A little more background may be helpful in understanding how we decided to use this new political opportunity to advance our policy agenda. In addition to boosting the pay of the judicial and executive branches, the “Harrisburg Hogs” (as our legislature was affectionately called by The Wall Street Journal) awarded themselves salary increases upwards of 54 percent. This was on top of already generous health care benefits, lucrative pensions, free SUVs and luxury cars, and $130 daily stipends just for showing up for work.

The constitutional violation occurred when the General Assembly sidestepped a prohibition against legislators collecting a salary increase during the term in which it is approved. Ignoring the people’s contract with their government, many lawmakers began taking thousands of dollars per month in added compensation defined as “expenses” 16 months early.

Lawmakers knew there would be an outcry, but they believed the backlash would be short-lived. They were counting on history to repeat itself, as in 1995 when the General Assembly passed an automatic annual cost-of-living pay increase that was supposed to be the “pay raise to end all pay raises.” The public was outraged then, but the anger subsided and not a single lawmaker lost his or her seat because of a pay raise vote.

What a difference a decade makes. In 2005, the fury never dissipated. Four months after the pay raise, in the November election, Pennsylvania voters were looking to vent their frustration with Harrisburg. The only statewide ballot races were retention elections for two state Supreme Court Justices. Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices are subjected to a retention vote every ten years. Most are retained by wide margins.

Political pundits scoffed at the notion that Justices Russell Nigro and Sandra Newman would be removed from the bench because of the pay raise. But Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph Cappy lobbied for and defended the new law. His role in the pay raise scandal was not lost on the citizens of Pennsylvania and it placed the two associate justices in the crosshairs of angry voters. The result? Nigro was ousted from office and Newman was retained by a slim margin.

The General Assembly quickly returned to Harrisburg after the historic judicial retention election and repealed the pay raise. They hoped to throw water on the brush fire that was burning across our commonwealth. But they couldn’t douse the flames. Indeed, by the beginning of the new year, nearly 30 members of the 253-member legislature announced their retirements. All of them either voted for the pay raise and/or refused to return their unconstitutionally acquired increases in salary (which boosted lawmakers’ pensions by thousands of dollars).

But the voters were not done yet.

In May 2006, more incumbents lost their primary races to same-party challengers than in the previous eight primary elections combined. In total, 17 incumbents were defeated, including the two highest posts in the Senate— the President Pro Tempore and Majority Leader. These two GOP legislative leaders could not garner more than a third of the vote against a county commissioner and a tire salesman— despite outspending their challengers by more than $2 million.

Political observers now believe that another wave could come crashing down on incumbents in the fall. When all is said and done, 50 to 60 new faces could be coming to Harrisburg in January 2007. A 20-percent turnover rate in a town with an historic recidivism rate of 98 percent–99 percent has turned our capitol on its head. In addition to the necessary reorganization in the Senate, a coup may occur against the GOP House leadership who also led and adamantly defended the pay raise but survived their primary election challenges.

So how does all of this relate to a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank?

Although the 2005 pay raise lit a powder keg in Pennsylvania, explosive material had been piling up in Harrisburg for decades. Despite a decade of Republican control of the General Assembly (by wide margins) and promises to limit government and restrain spending, state government continues to spend out of control while the commonwealth’s economy sputters.

The numbers are ugly. Job growth, income growth, population growth, and other key economic indicators remain anemic relative to the rest of the nation. Employment in government now exceeds employment in manufacturing jobs—the sector that built our commonwealth. These issues finally became electoral factors in light of the pay-raise scandal. The advantages of incumbency were mitigated, and challengers were able to appeal to the electorate on a relatively level playing field.

In the key Republican races, all of the victorious challengers ran on more than the pay raise. They utilized the years of research and the policy agenda of the Commonwealth Foundation to make a strong case for the need for change. They talked about the failure of the incumbents’ efforts to tax, borrow, and spend our state to prosperity. They argued for the need for more choice and competition in education. And they committed themselves to restoring the ideals of public service and reforming the culture of self service that has overtaken our state capitol.

We certainly didn’t bring attention to the culture of Harrisburg alone. In fact, we were part of a coalition that brought together organizations from all points along the ideological spectrum. While we would never agree on many important policy positions, we were able to coalesce around the need for more open, transparent, and accountable government.

We worked closely with Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, and others from the political Left. The newly created Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Club for Growth pushed from the political Right. It hasn’t been a Democrat and Republican fight; it has been a battle between us (the people) and them (the political establishment).

We couldn’t be more excited about the future of Pennsylvania. The dark clouds of the July 2005 pay raise have provided a silver lining for our policy agenda, even before a new legislature convenes in January 2007. Principles are already being championed, and power continues to be challenged.

We still have a long, long way to go before we fully salvage the ideals of public service and limited government that made Pennsylvania the cradle of American liberty. The Commonwealth Foundation is proud of the role it and its supporters have played in beginning that restoration process. So far we’re enjoying the bumpy ride in the tank.

Matthew J. Brouillette is president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives (www.CommonwealthFoundation.org).

Ten Principles of State Fiscal Policy

by Joseph L. Bast, Steve Stanek, and Richard Vedder

SOUND FISCAL PRINCIPLES promote economic growth, protect citizens from uncertainty and excessive taxation, and help lawmakers deal with tough economic times.

1. Above all else: Keep taxes low. The evidence is clear and has been for many years: High taxes hinder economic growth and prosperity.

2. Don’t penalize earnings and investment. Taxes on earnings and investment income are particularly harmful to economic growth.

3. Avoid sin taxes. Taxes on specific goods and services are often unfair, unreliable, and regressive.

4. Create a transparent and accountable budget. Focus attention and resources on providing those services that are the core functions of state government.

5. Privatize public services. Privatization is a proven way to reduce government spending while preserving or improving the quality of core public services.

6. Avoid corporate subsidies. Subsidies to corporations and selective tax abatement are questionable politics and bad economics.

7. Cap taxes and expenditures. A tax and expenditure limitation (TEL) protects elected officials from public pressure to spend surplus tax revenues during good economic times.

8. Fund students, not schools. States and cities that have experimented with school choice have seen gains in academic achievement.

9. Reform Medicaid. Spending on Medicaid can be brought under control without lowering the quality of care received by Medicaid patients.

10. Protect state employees from politics. State and local governments should be prohibited from deducting funds used for political purposes from the paychecks of public workers.

Joseph L. Bast is president of The Heartland Institute. Steve Stanek is managing editor of Budget & Tax News. Richard Vedder, Ph.D., is distinguished professor of economics at Ohio University. This article is excerpted from “Ten Principles of State Fiscal Policy” published by the Heartland Institute (www. heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId19354).

So You Want To Hold a Public Event

by John Hilboldt

YOUR BOSS WANTS TO PUT ON a special event? Great idea! (Hey, it’s the boss’s idea…)

But before you book the grand ballroom or reserve the local VFW Hall, you’ll need to ask and answer some questions objectively. Events require a significant investment of time and talent as well as energy and perseverance. Set aside the rose-colored glasses to evaluate your expectations and develop a sound strategy.

At The Heritage Foundation, we host some 175 general public programs annually—not to mention the dozens of briefings, discussions, and luncheons hosted by colleagues at Heritage, around the city, and across the country each year.

Successful events can open doors, encourage donors, forge alliances, and advance agendas. But before you book, ask yourself:

What’s the purpose? Is it necessary to hold a public event? What do I hope to achieve?
Everything depends upon what you are trying to accomplish.

Nobody wants to sponsor a press conference that draws no reporters or a lecture before a sparsely filled auditorium. Make sure the idea or topic genuinely merits a public airing or formal presentation. For current news items, can anything else be said that hasn’t already been said? An event requires time to structure and build an audience. Do you have enough time to get everything together? You can simply say, “us, too” by issuing a press release or position paper.

Who are my partners? Is your organization the best one to host on this topic? Should you con-sider a programming partnership?

Teaming up with like-minded groups is a win-win for both organizations. By selecting a re-spected co-sponsor or well-regarded local association, you’ll open doors to new contacts. Plus, both parties will have a chance to enhance their reputations.

At Heritage, we celebrate fellow foundations’ significant anniversaries or the introduction of their new publications. Likewise, we recognize the contributions of fellow think tanks in issue de-bates through targeted co-hosted programming.

Our annual Resource Bank Meeting now regularly features national and international partner-ship activities. Attendees profit from an ever-expanding base of contacts, greater exposure for their work, and much more productivity for the investment of time, travel, and budget. It all began when we reached out to a known ally and found a potential shared benefit.

Who is my audience? Who do you want to reach? Which people are you trying to motivate?

Attendance depends upon how well you define and identify your key audience.

If your target audience is the media, a debate or other format that produces a few “sparks” may be the draw, not just a stand-alone lecturer. If your target audience is Hill staff or policy types, a well-respected expert to provide straightforward and clear data with an appropriate commentator or two is much more effective than a theoretical, academic guru’s monologue. If your target audience is current and hoped-to-be future supporters, a “big name” may be the ticket.

What’s the program? What format best suits your purpose? What location benefits your audience?
Everyone values his time, so an appropriate and convenient location is a must. Even though Heritage is just minutes from the Capitol, sometimes the best location for a program is on the Hill itself—particularly when we’re targeting rushed-to-death staff members. Sometimes it’s best to use outside venues as a convenience to co-sponsors or to provide a more neutral setting for more contentious policy discussions. And, sometimes your audience may just benefit from a change of routine.

Also, make sure proposed speakers are indeed “ready for prime time.” Here partnerships add particular value. Identify co-sponsors who can strengthen your weaknesses. Divide planning as-signments to save everyone time and ease anxiety. Utilize one another’s best talents and noted speakers. Share each other’s best practices. Learn from one another’s past disasters. Multiply not only the number of people you reach, but also the purpose behind the event in the first place.

How will I promote this? What if nobody comes?

The courtesy of a timely notice works wonders. Earlier may not always be better, but last-minute notices are virtually pointless. An appropriately timed invitation shows respect for your invitees. Electronic invitations are an efficient, effective, and prompt method for reaching large numbers. However, just because the process may be deemed “instant,” audiences don’t appear at the blink of an eye.

Programming partners again provide added impact, increasing the likely connections with me-dia, advancing your invitation network, and generating additional buzz for your activity.

Public events do require groundwork and a lot of labor. They can be subject to missteps but they can be the best method for marketing your message, building your image, and promoting your agenda.

So, you want to have an event. Then get busy!

John Hilboldt is Director of Lectures and Seminars for The Heritage Foundation. This article was originally published in The Hill on March 15, 2006.