03/11/2013 03:00 pm ET Updated May 11, 2013

Sequester Solution: Lock Up the U.S. Congress

A Plume of White Smoke over Capitol Hill

Let's say you have a bunch of pampered power brokers who are supposed to go into a building and stay there until they make a critical decision -- one that affects millions of people. And let's say human psychology and politics keep this body from reaching a timely decision. What to do?

Well, in 1269, when the College of Cardinals failed to elect a new pope, the electors were locked in the building and their meals were diminished and then gradually replaced with bread and water. Paychecks were withheld. When even these inducements did not produce a Pope, the townspeople removed the roof of the building (the Palazzo dei Papi at that time) to gently encourage a prompt decision.

Is this a way to get the papal conclave to find the new pope in the piazza? Or could it be a ploy to encourage the U.S. Congress to negotiate a deal to end the Sequester? Maybe both...

How about a trans-Atlantic task swap? Simply have the Cardinals hammer out a deficit reduction deal and let the U.S. Congress select the next pope. Remove the political context in both cases, reason and compromise prevail and everybody's home in one day, praying or braying in accordance with their wonts.

Of course sticklers may point out small legal or theological impediments to adopting this solution, so let's consider a less elegant approach:

Why not apply a millennium of proven incentives to help Congress do its job?

1. Lock representatives in the building until they complete their task.
2. Withhold food and drink with increasing severity.
3. Withhold pay, or better yet, impose escalating daily fines.
4. Since the Capitol Building's roof cannot be moved without landmark issues, move deliberations to RFK Stadium and invite public to watch. If weather is not adequately inclement, hire a Hollywood film crew to produce rain.

Are there useful lessons from U.S. politics that we can share with our friends in the Vatican?

Fear of losing lavish offices and power seems to inspire congressman to work to keep their jobs. Consider allowing faithful Catholics to vote to fire Cardinals who fail to make wise and timely decisions. But do watch out for gerrymandered dioceses -- they can bring out the wing nuts.