More important

By ERNEST F. HOLLINGS, former U. S. senator


JUNE 18, 2014 -- Doing a good job in the State Legislature guaranteed your reelection. For example, in 1949, I introduced a 3 percent sales tax for public education and was reelected in 1950 and 1952.

Doing a good job persisted in the United States Senate. In 1993, we Democrats cut spending $250 billion and raised taxes $250 billion without a single Republican vote in the House or Senate. Congressman Gingrich said the tax increase would cause a depression. Republican Kasich, then Chairman of the House Budget Committee and now Governor of Ohio, said that he would change parties if the tax increase worked. It worked, giving President Bush a balanced budget in 2001 and I was elected to the Senate for the seventh time in 1998.

Today reelection and money for reelection has become more important than doing a good job. Senators put on a big act of doing a good job but all they do is fundraise. With over 10,000 lobbyists in Washington, Senators fundraise morning, noon and night. Schedules are arranged to fundraise. Lincoln's birthday is merged with Washington's, for ten days to fundraise. Thursday's policy lunches are cancelled for Senator's to go to Party Headquarters to call for money. No longer are filibusters serious. A Senator from either party holds the floor to filibuster for the remaining 98 to go to Hollywood to fundraise. Senators have six years to fundraise. Regular folks don't have six years.

Congress voted in 1971 and 1973 to control spending. The Supreme Court reversed the law in Buckley vs. Valeo when it made the fatal mistake of equating money with speech. We tried for thirty years to correct this mistake with McCain Feingold, public financing and in 1998 a majority voted to amend the Constitution to control spending but not the 2/3 vote required for a Joint Resolution. Five of the last six amendments in the Constitution deal with elections and controlling spending is more important than the five amendments. Today, Senators refuse to vote to amend the Constitution empowering Congress to control spending. They don't want to lose their six year advantage.

The takeover of political parties is another factor. I spent six years raising $7.5 million for reelection in 1998. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee contributed another million for a total of $8.5 million spent. Candidates must raise at least half the money to show Washington that they are electable before the Committees will help. A contested race for the U.S. Senate in South Carolina will take at least $10 million and candidates have to raise $5 million to show he or she is electable. Last year, coming out of Wal-Mart, a lady asked: "Senator I want to run for the Senate and I need your advice." I immediately asked her if she could raise $5 million in South Carolina. "Five million, you're crazy!" she responded. "No, I'm just telling you what's required" I responded.

The problem today is that voters find fundraising more important than doing a good job in public office. Grover Norquist has done a magnificent job making the voters against taxes - against paying for government. Given a balanced budget in 2001, President Bush increased spending or the national debt $5 trillion in eight years. President Obama increases spending and the debt $7 trillion in six years. Republicans and Democrats have no trouble spending. The problem is paying. Congress can't cut spending $12 trillion to get back to the balanced budget of 2001. It will take spending cuts and tax increases. But, voters go along with Speaker Boehner's nonsense that spending is the problem.

To act like it's doing a good job, to cover its fundraising, the best Off-Broadway show in the U.S. is the U.S. Congress. Congress fools the voters with a charade of "jobs bills", "tax reform" and "government is too big". Congress could do a good job by replacing the 35 percent Corporate Tax with a 7 percent VAT which gives instant tax reform and cuts the size of government (IRS). Eliminating the Corporate Tax releases $2 trillion in offshore profits for Corporate America to repatriate tax free and create millions of jobs. The 7 percent VAT raises billions to balance the budget in two years rather than ten. But this tax cut ruins the fundraising because Wall Street wants to keep the China offshore profits flowing.

Only when the public sobers up and determines that doing a good job in public office is more important than fundraising will anything get done.

Senator Hollings of South Carolina served 38 years in the United States Senate, and for many years was Chairman of the Commerce, Space, Science & Transportation Committee. He is the author of Making Government Work (University of South Carolina Press, 2008).

© 2014, Ernest F. Hollings. All rights reserved. Contact us for republication permission.

About Fritz Hollings

Ernest F. Hollings served the public for 56 years -- 38 years in the United States Senate and as South Carolina's governor, lieutenant governor and a member of the S.C. House of Representatives.

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