Warren Buffett is super-rich, one of our American billionaires who is ready to exit stage left.
As he’s planning to depart, he has given the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation the responsibility of disposing of his billions for good causes. Delegating is an art, not a science, and Buffett seems to be masterful at finding expertise where he needs it.
So why weigh in on political issues? Why make headlines about paying a tax rate lower than his secretary? Why go public with what seems to be his private business? Why expose himself in a way that the millionaire Mitt Romney has shunned for months?
Perhaps the master investor has figured out that presidential elections are more of a side-show at best, and at worst a way to expose the ugliest of what our country stands for, with mud-slinging and unfounded accusations, appeals to religion rather than the Constitution, and overblown concerns with abortion rather than health care reforms.
Perhaps he’s figured out that presidents come and go, maintaining a status-quo set up by a huge D.C. bureaucracy that runs its own course. Presidents — Republicans and Democrats alike — end up powerless against Congress. So, Buffett sent out a letter offering his “Congressional Reform Act of 2011.” It’s fairly simple, and if implemented could change the course of American politics, bringing it back to the vision of the Founders who believed that representatives should meet for short periods of time annually to legislate. Here’s Buffett’s agenda:
“1. No Tenure/No Pension. A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.
2. Congress (past, present and future) participates in Social Security. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.
3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.
4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of Consumer Price Index or 3 percent.
5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.
6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.
7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/12. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term’s, then go home and back to work.”
Straightforward as this seems, no ground-swell support is seen anywhere. We grumble and complain, despise our professional politicians for the special conditions of their employment, health care, and their retirement benefits, but they snub us all, remaining detached from the constituents they are supposed to represent.
Moving from the national level to the local, one wonders why our local millionaires — and there are quite a few of them here — aren’t as outraged as Buffett or as forthcoming with suggestions to reform our local political bastions of power — bureaucracies without supervision. Some do get involved, but not enough.
Regional Building Department commission chairwoman Sharon Brown, who is also a Fountain City Councilwoman, El Paso County Commission vice chairman Dennis Hisey, and Springs City Councilman Bernie Herpin have refused to respond to the questions I asked in writing on Jan. 12 and that were published here in my column on Feb. 17.
Obviously RBD is not accountable to anyone. Its organizational chart is still a secret only these commissioners know but refuse to divulge to the public. And here we are, trying to lure businesses to our town, but they won’t be able to refurbish spaces or pull permits because the commissioners won’t let them know who they should approach. Maybe a contractor will whisper the secret to their ears (for a fee), maybe not.
Unlike the RBD, and for that matter Memorial and Colorado Springs Utilities, the fire department and decided to put together a task force to find “Business/Broker Solutions for 2012.”
Chief Brown and Fire Marshal Lacey are trying to be business-friendly, forward-looking. Two RBD representatives were at the first meeting — nice and conscientious individuals who care about the city but remain politically powerless.
It’s not that RBD employees are not wonderful professionals who want to do the right thing; it’s that their bosses are unresponsive to the public, careless at best and negligent at worst, snubbing the same public these employees are trying to serve.
Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS who is still waiting to hear back from RBD’s three commissioners. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.