This is an idea I have been kicking around for a while. It would make (at the least) an interesting experiment, and not a particularly expensive one.
The proposed Obama budget for 2010 I find to be an abomination, it's only redeeming value is that it makes the steaming loaf of the $410 billion Omnibus budget bill for spending for the rest of 2009 look responsible by comparison. I fundamentally disagree with spending that much money on things that I do not share the President's concern for, and what's more, I pay a HUGE pile of taxes and stand to pay much more when the tax cuts of the Bush years run out.
I remember the misguided "Nuclear Peace" movement of the 1980s, and the phrase, "Wouldn't it be nice if schools were fully funded and the Air Force had to have a bake sale to buy a bomber?" Undoubtedly this doggerel was born in some left-wing think tank, or maybe air-freighted straight over from the USSR itself, but it got me to thinking: would the school or the Air Force win in a budget contest? And for me, there was no doubt, I'd be buying a share in the bomber.
With wedding and baby showers the US has developed quite an infrastructure dedicated to making lists and letting others fulfill the wishes of the honorees, it seems to be a reasonable step to adopt the same thing for the US Government. My "Government Registry" works like this:
1. The Congress adopts a budget for the year, which is divided as much as possible into the smallest dollar-value increment for each program and then fed into an online database. The Congress has 'registered' for the things it would like in a given year, down to the nuts, bolts, tires and policy costs.
2. Congress can set whatever taxation levels it chooses to, brackets, flat taxes, whatever.
3. Taxpayers get a report from the government when their taxes are filed, listing their payroll taxes, their income taxes paid, and their taxpayer ID.
4. Taxpayers then log into a secure website, enter their taxpayer ID and "go shopping", dedicating their tax dollars to specific programs the Congress has asked for in the next fiscal year.
You have to pay your FICA taxes toward Social Security and Medicare, which are programs that you front-end pay to directly benefit you, so when it comes to "shopping" for the government people who don't pay income taxes don't get to play in terms of determining which national priorities get funded.
For the lazy, there can be choices like "Evenly Distribute" and "All Social Welfare" and "All Defense" to allocate their dollars quickly and by formula. For everyone else, they get to know for sure what their tax dollars paid for in the next fiscal year.
I would buy a JDAM kit, medical insurance for a military family or two, childhood immunizations, practice ammo for the military and maybe buy some number of yards of interstate highway repair, and some hours of Air Traffic Controller hours (might need those guys if I fly). I would know what my money went to, and that makes paying my taxes a little more palatable.
The thing about wedding registries is that you occasionally get more in one category than you wanted, and have to return things. It would be interesting to see HUD trying to hawk 120mm tank rounds to fulfill their Congressional mandate, but probably the easier way to handle it is to make a public "gift" of some portion of overages from different government departments to the ones who missed out. The implications for the importance of the different departments of government in the eyes of taxpayers could not be clearer than the DoD announcing that it was funding 70% of the Department of Agriculture's budget for the year.
The budget would look very, very different, I think, if the people who paid the taxes chose where the money would go.