The Presidentís Last Budget Proposal
Henry F. Tonn
"Iím tired of this!" the president said, slamming his fist down on the table while his cabinet looked on. "No matter what we propose for debt reduction, the congress always torpedoes the idea. ĎYouíre spending too much. Youíre spending too much. Youíre spending too much,í they say. Iíve heard this refrain ever since I came into office. Barack Obama heard it, George Bush heard it, even Bill Clinton heard it, and he left office with a balanced budget. Well, Iím tired of hearing it. What we need to do is come up with a proposal that will dramatically cut spending and then get the people in this wonderful nation of ours to rally behind it so congress will be obliged to push it through without all this haggling. Now, we need to think outside the box on this one. Thatís the problem here: weíre all thinking in the same old manner. The same old, same old is not going to get it. Weíve got to start thinking outside the box. Outside the box!" And he slammed his fist down on the table once more for emphasis.
The vice president, looking grave, cleared his throat carefully. "Well, Mr. President, we can consult our economists about this. But, you have to admit, sir, they have a lot of trouble thinking outside the box. Iím not sure they even know where the box is."
The president sighed deeply and stood up. "Exactly. Very well, I will take it upon myself to come up with a creative solution here. Iím the president. Iím the leader. Itís up to me to accept the responsibility. Let me sleep on it and weíll convene again tomorrow."
And with that, the president stalked out of the conference room.
The following morning, at three oíclock, the president suddenly sat up in bed. He turned on the bedside lamp and mumbled to himself. "Hah!" he finally exclaimed. "Thatís it, by God! Thatís thinking outside the box."
He swiveled his little feet onto the floor and slipped into his slippers, then paced around the room absently fingering the front of his white silk pajamas. "I believe I have it," he mumbled.
Suddenly his wife sat up with mild alarm. She rubbed the sleepiness out of her eyes. "Whatís the matter, darling?"
"I have solved the debt crisis," he announced gravely.
She smiled with relief. "Oh, good. Iím so glad. Now, come to bed, darling. You need your rest."
"Donít you even want to know what it is?"
Knowing her husband all too well, she stifled a sigh and said, "Of course I do, darling. What is it?"
"Very simple." He kneeled on the foot of the bed and spread his arms wide. "Weíll simply euthanize everyone in the population whoís over sixty. In one fell swoop weíll eliminate a major portion of the countryís expenditures: social security payments, Medicare, etc. Thereís too many old people in this country anyway. Everybody knows that. And theyíre growing older all the time. Yes, thatís it. Euthanize all the people over sixty. Itís a great idea."
"Yes, darling," she said, laying back down and closing her eyes. "It certainly has some merit to it. Talk to the vice president about it in the morning. But come back to bed. You know you need your rest."
"Yes, my dear," the president said, sliding back underneath the covers. "Youíre absolutely right. And Iíll discuss this with my second-in-command first thing in the morning."
"Over sixty!" the vice president said, first thing in the morning. "I donít know if thatís going to fly, Mr. President. After all, most members of congress are either over or nearing that age."
"Exactly. Exactly," the president said, rubbing his hands together eagerly. "Exactly why I think I can get this bill passed. The citizens of the United States are sick of members of congress doing nothing but bickering. Bickering. Bickering. Bickering. Thatís all they do. Day and night. And they never get anything accomplished. I think the majority of the citizens of this country would vote for this proposal just to get the whole bunch of them out of office. Thatís why I think it will fly."
"Um, Mr. President," the vice president said, turning a distinctly light shade of green. "Why donít you make the cutoff date sixty-five? Or even seventy? I mean, people are living longer nowadays."
"I thought about that," the president responded, pacing back and forth in front of his desk and jabbing a finger at his colleague. "But if the country wants deep and responsible cuts, then we ought to make them deep and responsible. Sixty is an excellent age to implement this program. That will catch them before they reach that magic number of sixty-two. Weíll be anticipating the problem before we reach it. The voters will love it."
"But, Mr. President," the vice president continued, trying to disguise his rising angst, "maybe you should implement this program based on merit. You know, people who continue to be productive in society and not draining the national income can stick around, and those who are guilty of draining it can be. . . um. . . taken care of."
"No, no," the president said. "This thing should be fair. When we start singling people out, weíre doing the same thing as the IRS. Some people are in a preferred status and other people arenít. No. We should do it like a flat tax. Sixty, and youíre gone. Itís as simple as that." The president ran his fingers across his throat.
"But wonít people find ways to circumvent this policy?" the vice president asked. "Like, at fifty-nine-and-a-half, they move to Canada, or Mexico, or Europe, or somewhere?"
"Iíve thought of that, too," the president said, sitting behind his desk and placing the tips of his fingers together. "It wonít work, though. These countries will quickly figure out what the American people are trying to do. Instead of sucking off our society, theyíre trying to move there and suck off their society. Well, it wonít work. Theyíll just close their borders. Wouldnít that be a switch: the Mexicans building a wall to keep us out." He chuckled briefly and then became sober again. "Besides, thatís not our worry. Our worry is how to reduce the budget deficit and keep the Chinese from holding all the money we owe them over our heads due to all our borrowing, because we keep supporting these old people."
"Yes sir, Mr. President, I see your point," the vice president said. "Itís not that Iím opposed to the idea, you understand," he added carefully. "Itís just I think it may run into some . . .um. . . resistance."
"Well, I expect there to be resistance," the president said. "But Iím going to take this issue to the people. All congress will do is throw a fit and accomplish nothing- as usual. No, Iím going to take this directly to the people."
And so he did. The president made a series of speeches over the next six months on television and he toured all fifty states to gather support for his idea. Finally, he got numbers from a commissioned Gallup poll and looked over them with satisfaction. The results indicated that eighty-five per cent of voting age citizens between 21 and 30 would vote for the referendum because they knew it would be good for budget deficit reduction, and they couldnít imagine themselves becoming sixty anyway. Seventy-five per cent of the population between the ages of 31 and 40 were in favor of it because they figured it would provide more desirable jobs for them. Fifty per cent of the citizens between 41 and 50 approved the idea for the same reason, though the other fifty per cent were against it because they had too many relatives around that age. Finally, only twenty-five per cent of the people between 51 and 60 approved of the plan, for obvious reasons. Overall, however, sixty per cent of the population believed it was either an excellent or good idea for reducing the federal budget deficit, and that was good enough for the president. He decided to present a national referendum on this matter to the people during the coming elections and, simultaneously, encourage them to vote all the old people out of office, replacing them with new congressmen and women who could think outside the box.
The president tidied up his final plans with the vice-president. "But who is going to do the euthanizing, sir?" the vice-president asked, now a distinctly darker green than on their previous meetings.
"Oh, thatís the least of my worries," the president responded, waving a hand carelessly. "Weíll form a committee on the matter. A committee of young people who have flexibility and creative thought. It wonít be a problem. There are euthanizers everywhere. You just have to find them."
"Very good, sir," the vice-president said. "Um. . .I just have one other question before I leave. Do you know what the date is today?"
"Of course I do," the president replied impatiently. "Itís September twenty-third."
"Yes, sir. And do you know when your birthday is?"
"Of course I do. Itís October twenty-fifth."
"And how old will you be then?"
"Iíll be sixty. . .Hmm. . . Oh. . . I see your point. . . Iíve become one of the old people Iím targeting just while Iíve been working on the problem. Well, this is a distressing situation, isnít it?† Let me think. . .Hmm. . .," the president said, wandering around his large office.
"Well," he said after a lengthy pause, "Iíll just have to bite the bullet. Itís a good plan and I canít be showing favoritism-even to myself. In fact, this might be a good thing. Itíll show people Iím really sincere about reducing the budget deficit. I can be the first person euthanized in this program. In fact, Iíll do it before the program, by God. What do you think about that?"
The vice presidentís eyes were very wide but his pallor was improving. "Well, I think itís a noble gesture, Mr. President. But we donít have any euthanizers yet."
"No matter. No matter," the president said, waving his hand again. "Iíll just euthanize myself. Not a problem. Once again it will show the American people that Iím serious about deficit reduction."
"Yes, sir. May I inquire as to what method you would consider using as a euthanizer? A gun? A rope? Pills? Iím sure we can locate some cyanide pills, if you wish. Or a nice hemlock drink. Something like that."
"Yes, by God, if it was good enough for Socrates, it could be good enough for me. No, I think Iíll go by guillotine. Thereís something historical and romantic about that. Swoosh. One chop and itís over. You never know what hit you."
"A guillotine, sir. Now, thatís an interesting idea. Iím not sure weíd be able to find one, however."
"On the contrary, Mr. Vice President. It just so happens we have a guillotine right here in the basement of the White House."
"I wasnít aware of that, sir."
"Well, we do. I discovered it one day while taking inventory. Charles DeGaulle gave it to us as a present in the í60ís. Canít remember who he gave it to, Kennedy or Johnson or somebody. But itís a genuine antique, and it works. I know because Iíve tried it. Chopped off a few heads of lettuce down there in the past. Chopped up a watermelon once too but, God, that was a mess. Anyway, the guillotine will do fine. In fact," he looked up with bright smile, "now that Iíve thought of it, Iím rather looking forward to it."
"Uh, yes sir. When do you think you might be carrying this plan out?"
The president pursed his lips. "One week from today, my boy. One week from today will do the job. Weíll just make the arrangements. Iíll have to tell my wife, of course. Itíll be difficult but. . .sheíll understand. Weíve got to make sacrifices for our country. " And he slammed down his fist against the top of his desk. "There, then. Itís settled. Make the arrangements, Mr. Vice President. Convene congress on that day. First thing in the morning."
"Yes sir. Iíll make the arrangements."
On the fateful day one week later, the president appeared before his congress with head held high and dressed immaculately in a handsome dark suit and red tie. If he was feeling any anxiety, he did not show it.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the House and Senate," he said, addressing them from the podium. "I will be brief. This country needs firm and determined leadership to deal with the fiscal issues before us, and I came into office promising my constituents to provide that very type of leadership. The decision has been made and I am bound and to carry it out. It is a far, far better thing I do now, than ever I have done before. And it is a far, far better rest I go to now, than ever I have known before. And so I bid you all good-bye and good luck, and I beseech you to do the right thing. Remember, the nation and the world have entrusted you with their faith."
And with that, the president turned and left the chamber. The vice president took over the podium and sat somberly while members of congress murmured quietly amongst themselves. Fifteen minutes later a page entered the room carrying a small cardboard box. He handed it deferentially to the vice president. The vice president placed the box on a table in front of him and opened the top.
"Ew," he said, grimacing slightly. He covered the box again and straightened his shoulders. "Ladies and gentlemen," he intoned. "I hereby affirm that the president has, indeed, carried out his plan. Anyone in the chamber wishing to verify this action is invited to the podium following adjournment. Let us have a moment of silence in memory of our dearly departed president who has made the ultimate sacrifice for our country."†
Everyone bowed their heads and the chamber became silent.
"Now," the vice president said after thirty seconds. He carefully cleared his voice. "I realize I will be sworn in as president directly. Let me make it clear, however, that, though our past presidentís plan for budget reduction is not without merit, I believe it warrants further consideration--careful consideration--before implementation. I am, therefore, recommending we table the idea for the moment until it receives the necessary attention it requires. A committee will be appointed to handle this matter in the near future. Ladies and gentlemen, this congress is adjourned." And he rapped his gavel sharply upon the table.
As a body, the entire congress rose and began filing out of the chamber. One elderly member was heard to say as he tottered through the door, "Thank God thatís over. Now we can get back to the business of budget deficit reduction."
"Hear, hear," a member behind him said. "God bless us all. Every one of us. And God bless America."††
Henry F. Tonn a semi-retired psychologist whose fiction, nonfiction, poetry, literary and book reviews have appeared in such print journals as the Gettysburg Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, and Weave Magazine, and online publications such as Front Porch Journal, Summerset Review, and Newpages.com. He is presently editing a war veterans anthology and can be found at henrytonn.com.