Cutting the Deficit: A Modest Proposal

Steve Benen rightly displays contempt for the White House’s attempt to lay the deficit that it created on the doorstep of the new Democratic Congress. But if it really wants to go there, I can offer a scenario mooted in the wake of Watergate by the greatest of all constitutional scholars, Charles Black. Black observed:

My classes think I am trying to be funny when I say that, by simple majorities, Congress could at the start of any fiscal biennium, reduce the president’s staff to one secretary for answering social correspondence, and that, by two-thirds majorities, Congress could put the White House up at auction. But I am not trying to be funny; these things are literally true….

Charles L. Black, The Working Balance of the American Political Departments, 1 Hastings Const. L.Q. 13, 15-16 (1974)

Perhaps a good way to start answering the President’s newly-discovered passion for fiscal austerity might be some well-placed hits to the Executive Office of the President. As for putting up the White House for auction, cynics might argue that the Dear Leader’s regulatory policies have already done that, but perhaps a medium-term lease, to end on January 20, 2009, might be in order.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.