John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The Constant Gardener

Posted on May 26, 2010

Photo credit: Henry Brisse

In 2005, Paramount released a movie starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz called The Constant Gardener.

This post has absolutely nothing to do with that movie.

I was thinking about gardening when I was sweeping up the berries from my neighbor’s obnoxious tree, which spews smelly, ugly, messy berries every spring.

Like gardening, it requires constant work to keep my back patio clean.

To be a successful gardener (and believe me, I am not a successful gardener), you have to be constantly working to keep the flowers properly watered and pruned.  You also have to constantly work to fight off the weeds.  If you don’t, the weeds will eventually take over the garden, and the garden will be lost.

This isn’t a column about gardening.  It is a column about government growth.

Like a garden, the government requires constant pruning.  The weeds of government (or wasteful, Washington spending) can take over the whole government if there isn’t a constant gardener who is working to prune and cut and pull out the bad spending.

But there isn’t a constant gardener in the federal government, whose sole job is to get rid of wasteful spending.

Sure, you have the Office of Management and Budget and you have the General Accountability Office and you have the Congressional Budget Office, and theoretically, their jobs are supposed to look after the spending.  But the OMB and CBO are so politically compromised at this point, that they have very little credibility when it comes to spending.

They are not constant gardeners when it comes to the budget.

So, I have a proposal.  I say we are a constant gardener.  Or better yet, we create within the Federal Government, a government commission that is charged with identifying those parts of the government that need pruning or better yet, need to be pulled out by its roots.

But this won’t be a regular commission.  It will be a completely bipartisan commission, like the Base Closing Commission, in that it has the ability to bring its recommendations straight to the floor of the Congress.

And here is the kicker.  To give these Commissioners an additional incentive to actually identify waste, fraud and abuse within the government, I propose you give them a small percentage of what they save back should the spending proposals actually pass Congress.  So, if they save the Treasury a trillion dollars in cuts, they actually get a billion dollars.

That’s a lot of money, which will give the Commissioners some real incentives to find that waste, and then a lot of incentives to actually compel Congress to pass it.

I would add a further wrinkle.  Allow the Commission to hire lobbyists and PR firms to pressure Congress to pass the spending cuts.

All too often, the lobbying profession is incentivized to lobby on behalf of more spending.  But it rarely, if ever, lobbies for spending cuts.  And that may be one small reason why Congress spends more and cuts less.

These lobbyists for the Constant Gardening Commission would only get paid if their spending cuts were enacted into law.  I bet you they would work extra hard to get it done.  I would even bet that some of them would give campaign contributions to members of Congress to vote in favor of spending cuts.

That would be a real sea-change for Congress.  Just imagine if members of Congress would get campaign contributions for actually voting to cut spending.

Everybody wins.  The taxpayers save billions, if not trillions, of dollars that won’t go to wasteful, useless spending.  The Commissioners win because if they are successful, they can make some good money.  The lobbyists who are hired by the Commissioners win, because they make some money by getting the spending cuts enacted by Congress.  And the Representatives win, not only by doing the right thing by cutting stupid Washington spending, but, if they play their cards right, they can get support for their positions by K Street.

In any event, we need to have an independent Constant Gardening Commission to keep pruning away at the weeds of government.   The natural state of government programs is to grow uncontrollably, just like it is the natural state of weeds to grow as fast and as big as they can.  The only way to stop it is to hire a Constant Gardner.