THE BLOG

Congress Could Use a Lesson From America's Innovators

02/06/2014 12:02 am 00:02:24 | Updated Apr 07, 2014

The compromise spending bill for $1.1 trillion keeps the government open through September, according to CNN. It increases funding to Head Start by $1 billion for early childhood education, which makes sense after its recent low point with the forced budget cuts last year. It increases the paychecks of federal workers and military personnel by 1 percent. It reduces funding to the IRS and the Environmental Protection Agency. It launches policies aimed at getting more low-risk passengers through security quicker at airports. So it has a little bit in it for just about everyone. But once again, Congress is kicking the can down the road, because we are going to have this same contentious conversation next fall when this extension expires.

The New York Times broke down the cost of this new budget per each U.S. resident: $259 goes to food stamps (now known as SNAP), $61 goes to the child school lunch program, $30 goes for crop insurance, $40 goes to loans and direct payments to farmers, $2,672 covers Social Security, $1,591 covers Medicare, $26 goes to the FBI, and $22 goes to the federal prison system.

These budget impasses remind me of the movie Groundhog Day, where we wake up and repeat the same mistake month after month, year after year. There have got to be some innovative thinkers outside and inside government who can get us out of this rut of repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

One big idea is coming from Ron Unz, according to USA Today. Mr. Unz is a Silicon Valley multimillionaire and registered Republican who is pushing a California proposal to boost the minimum pay rate to $12 an hour. Unz believes that taxpayers, for too long, have been subsidizing low wages, since the government pays for food stamps and other programs these workers utilize. He feels raising the minimum wage to $12 would lift millions of people out of poverty, driving up income and sales tax revenue and at the same time saving taxpayers billions of dollars, since these workers would no longer qualify for many of the welfare benefits.

Another big idea came out of Chicago under the leadership of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He created the small business center in City Hall last spring to streamline small business services. The city has reduced the number of business licenses from 117 to 49, which has saved small businesses $700,000 in just the last six months. Chicago is phasing out the Head Tax, a decision that saved small businesses $4.8 million in 2013. This is just an example of how cities can cut through the red tape to not only make its citizens' lives easier but actually save money.

TOMS is a for-profit company that gives away a pair of shoes to an impoverished child for every pair it sells. Additionally, when TOMS sells a pair of eyewear, part of the profit goes toward helping restore sight to those who need help, and according to their site, "helping to restore sight restores independence, economic potential and educational opportunity." They have taken the "giving back" theory a step further and last fall launched TOMS Marketplace, which gives socially conscious suppliers a platform to sell products that help support causes ranging from education and health to nutrition and clean water.

Most organizations don't have the resources like the city of Chicago or TOMS to help make a major impact in changing our country or making our federal budget a non-issue. The largest charity in the U.S. is the United Way, which is a network of 1,800 United Way communities and manages $4.26 billion. They "envision a world where all individuals and families achieve their human potential through education, income stability and healthy lives." The second largest is the Salvation Army, which manages $4.08 billion to carry out their mission "to feed, to clothe, to comfort and to care." These budgets seem small compared to the $1.1-trillion federal budget, yet they do take some pressure off the government in taking care of everything the underprivileged need. I guess it is up to all of us to do our best to relieve some of this pressure. At DollarDays on our Facebook page, we are giving away hundreds of flip-flops (the TOMS model inspired us) to organizations that help kids in need, so make sure you nominate a worthy organization.

Sometimes I think we put too much faith in our government that they will take care of pushing our economy forward as well as taking care of those most in need. A Gallup poll just reported that just 13 percent of Americans approve of the job that Congress is doing. If that was the approval rating in any other part of our society, they would all be gone. This is the group we must rely on next fall to permanently fix the day-to-day operations of our government. Based on their recent history, I am skeptical that this will happen. That is why the rest of us have to step up with the "big ideas" to make our civilization work with or without our government's support.