Things that would never occur to Jim DeMint

Cindi had a good column today on the subject of arbitrary caps and limits and pledges and the like. There are a number of good things to get out of it.

The first is the fact that Jon Huntsman is the only Republican presidential candidate who has refused to sign Jim DeMint’s Cut, Cap and Whatever pledge — which apparently irritates our junior senator no end.

Jim is all like, “I won’t support any candidate who does not support balancing the budget. … So for me, he’s out.”

Which ignores reality, of course. It doesn’t occur to Jim (or at least, he lets on that it doesn’t occur to him, on account of amassing personal political power now being the most important thing to him, judging by his actions) that a guy could be for a balanced budget amendment (which Huntsman is) and not want to kowtow to him by signing his pledge. For that matter, just to go way deeper into territory that Jim DeMint would find impossible to imagine, one can be for, very passionately for, a balanced budget — and yet not favor a constitutional amendment mandating it.

Personally, I’m ambivalent about the amendment thing. A balanced budget should be standing operating procedure, except in times of full-mobilization war and other serious emergencies. But that should be an annual decision by Congress, not a mechanism. Whether we’ve reached the point that we have to throw out that process is not yet entirely clear to me. Maybe we have. I’m just not sure.

That aside, though, there’s a bigger point here — a point even bigger than the national debt. It goes to the heart of representative democracy:

But there’s an important principle involved as well: Pledging to do or not do anything important is an abdication of elected officials’ duty to examine the issues before them and make their own decisions on behalf of their constituents. And it makes it impossible for officials to govern in a changing world. Imagine the pledges some politicians might have signed before 9/11 — and how that could have prevented them from taking necessary actions to protect our nation after the attacks “changed everything.”

Yes! Yes! YESSSS!!! (Waiter, I’ll have what he’s having…) Continuing…

When you sign away your right to consider all your options, when you are bound by uninformed opinions, when you take directions from people whose primary purpose is to maintain power and defeat those who don’t think exactly as they do, rather than taking advantage of different points of view to come up with the best solutions, then you can’t even imagine the complex solutions to our state’s interwoven ills, much less enact them.

Sounds like Cindi was listening all those years, huh? Not that she couldn’t have come up with all those thoughts on her own. Come to think of it, maybe it was me listening to her

34 thoughts on “Things that would never occur to Jim DeMint

  1. Andrew Williams

    We’d have been better off electing a watermelon to the U.S. Senate. To think that this man got a free ride last year in the election, sickens me.

  2. Lynn T

    I can accept your premise that the budget should ordinarily be balanced unless there are exceptional conditions, but I can’t be ambivalent about the balanced budget amendment as currently proposed. It is awful. The amendment requires a super-majority (2/3) to raise taxes and a simple majority to lower them. Under those conditions, our nation would become ungovernable, which may well be the point for the Kochs and others like them who push this but would be catastrophic for the nation as a whole.

  3. bud

    How can you be “ambivalent about the amendment thing”? That is just shocking. Either you are strongly in favor of it because you’re a complete idiot or you’re adamently oppossed to it because you understand just how dangerous and wrong-headed it is. Congress needs to have the latitude to make financial decisions without being hamstrung by legalities that would make it next to impossible to spend more during recessions and wars. As zealously opposed to foreign wars as I am I would not be in favor of an ammendment that precludes raising money for them IF there actually was a REAL national emergency. Budgeting should be a disciplined endevour without the straightjacket of an artificially imposed constitutional ammendment.

    Just as an aside, why weren’t the Republicans pushing for a constitutional ammendment to balance the budget during the Bush years? That’s when we got started on this path in the first place. A good sense of history was never the strong suit of the GOP.

  4. Brad

    To explain about the ambivalence thing: I could never support an amendment that would require a two-thirds majority to override. That concept is abhorrent, for the simple reason that Cindi states, and which I’ve so often said myself: “… in other words, a constitutional requirement that the minority set federal tax policy.”

    Requiring supermajorities is practically always a bad idea.

    What I’m ambivalent about is the idea of requiring that the budget be balanced under most conditions. There is so little spending restraint, no matter who is in power… no, excuse me. It’s not the spending that bothers me (in the abstract at least — I can get outraged about this or that expenditure, but this notion that the gummint shouldn’t be more than a certain arbitrary “size” makes little sense to me) as much as the fact that we don’t PAY for it. Have all the programs you want, just pay for them.

    The fact that we DON’T pay, under normal conditions, is one of those things that over time undermines even MY confidence in the deliberative process. You find yourself casting about for some cure like BRAC. In principle, I’m deeply opposed to such mechanisms — all mechanisms, really; I prefer for humans to exercise judgment within the context of each particular situation. But one can get pretty desperate about the practical matter of mounting debt, and start considering things that are against one’s principles.

    In the end, though, I don’t think there’s a balanced budget amendment I could vote for. Since I just want to balance the budget in MOST circumstances, you have to have an out. And once you’ve set things in stone, you have to specify the conditions of the “out” in stone as well. Which means deciding in advance what and how you will decide, rather than using judgment within the context of the deliberative process. It requires a mechanism. And I am SO opposed to that (it’s what’s wrong with spending caps and such), that it’s hard to imagine an actual, real-world balanced budget amendment I would favor.

    That’s ambivalence: Wanting a cure, but recoiling from all the potential remedies. Ambivalence is uncomfortable.

    Put another way: I probably would not hesitate to vote down any amendment you can think of. But I might have mixed feelings about it.

  5. Brad

    I guess what I want is a STRONG SUGGESTION that the budget be balanced, one that’s hard to ignore. But not a requirement…

  6. Mark Stewart

    Brad, You mean you want good government?

    Whatever his goal, that is not part of DeMint’s calculus.

  7. `Kathryn Fenner

    Actually, I believe that Jim DeMint does want good government—it’s just that that doesn’t mean to him what it means to us.

    He certainly also brings a huge measure of ego to the process, from where I sit. Hubris?

  8. Brad

    I think you’re right, Kathryn. Jim would certainly say he wants good government (or at least less of it), and would be serious.

    “Hubris” sort of works. So does “megalomania.”

  9. Brad

    Oh, Mab, I almost wrote a post about that. There are few things I despise more about our hyperpartisanship than bogus war analogies. There is nothing in politics more offensive than this pervasive, insidious notion that sincere Americans with whom you disagree are the “enemy.”

    People who use rhetoric like that should immediately be transported to a battlefield where they can see what it’s like to face an actual enemy. You know, the guys over there who are trying to KILL you…

  10. `Kathryn Fenner

    “Puppet master” is good.

    Brad–you’ve been up close to a lot of politicians–how many are true believers, if possibly misguided, and how many are cynical opportunists?

  11. Brad

    If it had been a direct quote from DeMint, instead of an aide, I probably would have found the time to rant about it…

  12. Brad

    Based on social media, Doug is on vacation. He said on Facebook yesterday, “No sales tax and no meals tax in Montana. I am in heaven!”

  13. Steven Davis

    They don’t call it God’s Country for nothing. For a while they didn’t even have a speed limit on the interstates.

  14. Mark Stewart

    So what type of tax does Doug like, or at least find palatable?

    I thought it was the sales tax. Guess I was mistaken…

  15. Steve Gordy

    Yep, the requirement for a balanced budget has certainly worked wonders, both in California (which the media have covered extensively) and in Texas (which only the Texas media seem to have covered). Any reason to believe that it will work better in Washington?

  16. Karen McLeod

    I wish that I could think that Sen. DeMint is trying to do things well and morally. Unfortunately, I don’t see any signs of it.

  17. bud

    I guess what I want is a STRONG SUGGESTION that the budget be balanced, one that’s hard to ignore. But not a requirement…

    Didn’t we have just that with the Graham/Rudmen/Hollings balanced budget law a couple decades back? Did that thing get repealed? If not why are we still running deficits? Seems like deja vu all over again.

  18. Herb Brasher

    Senator DeMint belongs to the same church denomination that I do–at least I believe he does, a denomination whose members tend, at least here in the South, to lean very heavily to the right. I wonder if there isn’t a lot of group-think here that doesn’t look at all the facts, because it has aligned itself with certain positions that are constatnly re-inforced by filtering the data in a certain direction.

    As convinced as I am of Biblical Christianity, which very often is the same as ‘conservative’ Christianity (though not necessarily), the marriage of conservative Christianity with conservative economics and conservative politics is a modern day syncretism that is destroying the witness of evangelicals–mainly here in the South. Evangelicals in the north tend to be able more to stay clear of it.

    The thing is, it has been done too often. I’ve just been reading Howe’s history of the U.S., 1815 to 1848. Fascinating–and at time deplorable–the growth of our country, spurred on by a mixture of factors, but most certainly one of them being white supremacy, which doctrine God gets used to support, since it was ‘manifest destiny.’

  19. David

    Dear Republican candidates:

    There are a lot of pledges out there requiring you to adhere to this or that steadfast belief, no-ifs-or-buts policy position, or behavior. Signing pledges puts you at risk of having to violate a promise in order to do something meaningful in a non-black and white world full of unforseen circumstances and necessary compromises. In light of this, I am asking that you take my pledge against pledges:

    I, [candidate for office], pledge not to sign or otherwise agree to any pledge because signing pledges, other than the oath of office, is generally a bad idea and is always unnecessary.

    Choose to take it or not. But if you choose not to take my pledge, you do not get my support. If you violate it, you lose my support.

    Also, by taking this pledge, do you violate the pledge to not take pledges?


    Choose wisely.

  20. SusanG

    Of course, Montana has both property taxes and income taxes (and accomodations and rental car taxes). The US Census has Montana ranked 33rd and SC ranked 43rd in highest taxes per capita. We have similar percentages of people in poverty and people with retirement income.
    But it is nice not to have to pay sales taxes on vacation, I agree!

  21. Doug Ross

    Now that I am back in the internet world to defend myself, here’s the tax system I would love to see (I won’t get into corporate taxes because I don’t know how they work here).

    1) A flat income tax. One rate. No deductions. No exemptions. No filing. Everyone pays the same rate on every dollar earned. Want to raise taxes? Raise them on everyone.

    2) A gas tax that went directly and solely to maintaining roads. Set it at whatever rate you want. Again, let everyone participate.

    3) A property tax system built around making one dwelling paying the same rate as any other dwelling regardless of the value. Set one rate for owner occupied homes and another for apartments. Also institute impact fees for every single new home and apartment built. Much of the issues in Richland County are a result of overbuilding without consideration of the infrastructure. Pay for it first before you build.

    I don’t think you need sales, property, and income taxes. Pick two out of three. Many states get by with just two. Some only have one.

    The problem with our taxation system isn’t just how much is paid but what the money is spent on and how inefficient and complex and wasteful the process of collecting the taxes is. It’s a joke. Case in point – who in their right mind would institute a sales tax break of 1% for people over the age of 85? That’s pure idiocy.

  22. Mark Stewart


    You raise some vexing issues, such as:

    1) Define “every dollar earned”. Is this wages only or also capital gains, etc.?

    2) So no sidewalks, bike lanes or transit systems then? Shall we just keep ever-expanding our roadways? Would your gas tax be a flat fee to use the road, a set price per gallon, or a percentage of the cost of a gallon of gas?

    3) A universally flat per dwelling tax? But different for apartments (and condos?) then for single family homes? I’m assuming that you would want a higher rate for multi-family… I hate to say it, but this idea is completely absurd all the way around. A $29,000 mobile home would be taxed the same as a $5 million dollar beachhouse, and this makes sense to you? That’s like saying income taxes should be paid on a per job basis (Work three part-time jobs and pay three times the taxes!). What about “second” homes? What about cars, boats, planes, etc. – would these be flat-taxed as well?Furthermore, it’s a nice idea in a utopian world to institute impact fees that immediately cover the cost of infrastructure related to new development. The only problem is that it is both arbitrary and self-strangling. What about everything that’s been built to date? Would this apply only to new homes and businesses, or also to purchases of existing properties?

    While I like your idea of two out of three taxes – though I personally would repeal the sales tax as the most regressive of the three – the reality is that a three-legged tax stool is the best way for government to tax with equality and stability.

  23. Kathryn Fenner

    There are good reasons for having different types of taxes–sales tax captures people who live outside an area but who come in and benefit from it. Property tax covers the expenses of being a resident. Income tax at a progressive rate reflects that some people benefit a lot more from society and should shoulder a greater burden…etc.

  24. Doug Ross


    Is my idea about per dwelling taxes any less absurd than two homes less than 100 yards apart paying 1000 dollars or more difference in property taxes? I can show you an example in my neighborhood where a new development with homes in the $120k range backs up to homes in the $250-$300k range. Why? Property taxes are for services that are common to all residents. Sorry, but I will never be convinced that the price you pay for the same thing should be based on what your home’s estimated worth.


    Please explain what the extra benefits I receive from society are. Are you suggesting I am a net recipient of tax revenues?

  25. Mark Stewart


    If you live in South Carolina you are (almost) by definition a net recipient of tax revenues.

    Your point is exactly why 388 is such a bad deal for everyone in the state. Things will only get worse along the lines you describe with real estate taxes under the misguided impulses of this ill thought out law… However, to me is is a long, long leap to the conceptualization that every property is of equal taxable value. That’s something that most people, whatever their political or philosophical leaning, could never see as a viable path forward.

  26. Steven Davis

    I’m willing to bet that someone on welfare benefits far more than I do. I don’t believe I benefit directly from any social welfare programs. Nobody helps me pay my mortgage, nobody pays for my heath benefits, nobody give me a card for free food… this all comes out of my pocket.

    I’m reading articles now of foreclosed homes being used as Section 8 homes. How would that go over, you paying on $3000 monthly mortgage and your neighbor paying $50/month with the government picking up the remaining $2950. That has to do wonders for property values in the neighborhood.

  27. Brad Warthen

    Good news, Steven! “Welfare” — that thing where kids were brought into the world and lived off a government check until they were adults — ceased to be in the mid-90s.

    Now there’s this short-term crisis-aid thing called TANF that’s here and gone. Like unemployment, it’s just until you find a job, which you have to do pretty quickly. It’s what Ronald Reagan endorsed as a “safety net,” not a way of life.

    I’m glad to be able to share that news with you.

    I’ll go further and tell you that if you think someone who is reduced to the pathetic state of living off of TANF, or unemployment checks, is doing better than you are in our system, then you are sadly mistaken. Unless, of course, your circumstances are far worse than what I imagine. If I’m wrong on that score, you have my sympathy.

  28. Doug Ross


    Let’s stick to state and local taxes. Prove to me that I am a net recipient of services. I pay $3000+ in property taxes on my home and another $1000 on cars. I also spend (thanks to having a wife and three kids) a lot of money on purchases in stores and restaurants which are also taxed.

    Convince me that my payments get me more benefits than the family living less than a 1/4 mile away who are paying $1200 for their home property tax and $500 for cars.

    I know, I know… I am blessed and should be honored to have the ability to pay more for the same thing.

  29. Steven Davis

    If it ceased to exist in the 1990’s, why are there still generation after generation of people on welfare? It just got rewrapped under a different name. Go down to any Columbia housing project and ask the residents the last time they held a job or earned a paycheck. I bet you’d hear “never” more than you’d like to believe. So if welfare is gone, how are these same people still drawing benefits decade-after-decade?

    I remember the 3 years and out welfare talks… but I think that’s all it ended up being was talk.

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