Journalist Charley Reese (now retired) was part of the Orlando Sentinel's staff for three decades between 1971-2001, during which time he (among other duties) penned a thrice-weekly column which was distributed to other newspapers nationwide by King Features Syndicate. During the 1980s Reese wrote the first version of an editorial opining that 545 people (i.e., the President of the United States, plus all the members of Congress and the Supreme Court) "are directly, legally, morally and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country," and he has amended, updated, and republished that piece several times since then.
The following version is taken from the 7 March 1995 edition of the Orlando Sentinel, where it ran under the title "Looking for Someone to Blame? Congress Is a Good Place to Start":
Politicians, as I have often said, are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them.
Everything on the Republican contract is a problem created by Congress. Too much bureaucracy? Blame Congress. Too many rules?
Blame Congress. Unjust tax laws? Congress wrote them.
Out-of-control bureaucracy? Congress authorizes everything bureaucracies do. Americans dying in Third World rat holes on stupid U.N. missions? Congress allows it. The annual deficits?
Congress votes for them. The $4 trillion plus debt? Congress created it.
To put it into perspective just remember that 100 percent of the power of the federal government comes from the U.S. Constitution. If it's not in the Constitution, it's not authorized.
Then read your Constitution. All 100 percent of the power of the federal government is invested solely in 545 individual human beings. That's all. Of 260 million Americans, only 545 of them wield 100 percent of the power of the federal government.
That's 435 members of the U.S. House, 100 senators, one president and nine Supreme Court justices. Anything involving government that is wrong is 100 percent their fault.
I exclude the vice president because constitutionally he has no power except to preside over the Senate and to vote only in the case of a tie. I exclude the Federal Reserve because Congress created it and all its power is power Congress delegated to it and could withdraw anytime it chooses to do so. In fact, all the power exercised by the 3 million or so other federal employees is power delegated from the 545.
All bureaucracies are created by Congress or by executive order of the president. All are financed and staffed by Congress. All enforce laws passed by Congress.
All operate under procedures authorized by Congress. That's why all complaints and protests should be properly directed at Congress, not at the individual agencies.
You don't like the IRS? Go see Congress. You think the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agency is running amok? Go see Congress.
Congress is the originator of all government problems and is also the only remedy available. That's why, of course, politicians go to such extraordinary lengths and employ world-class sophistry to make you think they are not responsible. Anytime a congressman pretends to be outraged by something a federal bureaucrat does, he is in fact engaging in one big massive con job. No federal employee can act at all except to enforce laws passed by Congress and to employ procedures authorized by Congress either explicitly or implicitly.
Partisans on both sides like to blame presidents for deficits, but all deficits are congressional deficits. The president may, by custom, recommend a budget, but it carries no legal weight. Only Congress is authorized by the Constitution to authorize and appropriate and to levy taxes. That's what the federal budget consists of: expenditures authorized, funds appropriated and taxes levied.
Both Democrats and Republicans mislead the public. For 40 years Democrats had majorities and could have at any time balanced the budget if they had chosen to do so. Republicans now have majorities and could, if they choose, pass a balanced budget this year. Every president, Democrat or Republican, could have vetoed appropriations bills that did not make up a balanced budget. Every president could have recommended a balanced budget. None has done either.
We have annual deficits and a huge federal debt because that's what majorities in Congress and presidents in the White House wanted. We have troops in various Third World rat holes because Congress and the president want them there.
Don't be conned. Don't let them escape responsibility. We simply have to sort through 260 million people until we find 545 who will act responsibly.
By way of comparison, here is another version of Reese's piece, as it appeared in 1985:
Politicians are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them.
Have you ever wondered why, if both the Democrats and Republicans are against deficits, we have deficits? Have you ever wondered why if all politicians are against inflation and high taxes, we have inflation and high taxes?
You and I don't propose a federal budget. The president does. You and I don't have Constitutional authority to vote on appropriations. The House of Representatives does. You and I don't write the tax code. Congress does. You and I don't set fiscal policy. Congress does. You and I don't control monetary policy. The Federal Reserve Bank does.
One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one president and nine Supreme Court justices — 545 human beings out of 235 million — are directly, legally, morally and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country.
I excused the members of the Federal Reserve Board because that problem was created by the Congress. In 1913, Congress delegated its Constitutional duty to provide a sound currency to a federally chartered by private central bank.
I exclude all of the special interests and lobbyists for a sound reason. They have no legal authority. They have no ability to coerce a senator, a congressman or a president to do one cotton-picking thing. I don't care if they offer a politician $1 million in cash. The politician has the power to accept or reject it.
No matter what the lobbyist promises, it is the legislators' responsibility to determine how he votes.
Don't you see the con game that is played on the people by the politicians? Those 545 human beings spend much of their energy convincing you that what they did is not their fault. They cooperate in this common con regardless of party.
What separates a politician from a normal human being is an excessive amount of gall. No normal human being would have the gall of Tip O'Neill, who stood up and criticized Ronald Reagan for creating deficits.
The president can only propose a budget. He cannot force the Congress to accept it. The Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, gives sole responsibility to the House of Representatives for originating appropriations and taxes.
Those 545 people and they alone are responsible. They and they alone should be held accountable by the people who are their bosses — provided they have the gumption to manage their own employees.
In 2008, Reese's editorial was updated with some topical political references (e.g., Nancy Pelosi's name in place of Tip O'Neill's; the Army and Marines listed as being in Iraq rather than on "U.N. Missions") and circulated via e-mail under the title "The 545 People Responsible for America's Woes" (or just "545 People), often with additional material not written by Reese himself tacked onto the beginning or end of the article.
Reese died on 21 May 2013. He wrote his actual final column in August 2008:
The great advantage of a free society is the capacity to self-correct itself. You'd think dictators would have figured that out, but if they are not paranoid when they seize power, they become so trying to hang on to power.
Well, enough random thoughts. My goal as a columnist has always been to stimulate and, if necessary, provoke people into thinking for themselves. If we fail to do that, a free society won't last. I wish you all a fond farewell.