—John Terry as Lt. Lockhart in Full Metal Jacket
Monday Congress—once again working with just a few behind closed doors instead of in open and public debate—reached an agreement on a debt limit bill that, in the name of saving us from a supposed debt/deficit crisis and reducing government spending . . . increases the government’s ability to incur debt, and doesn’t reduce spending. UPDATE 8/6/2011: At least we avoided a downgrade in U.S. credit rating--oops, didn't even manage to head that off, as yesterday S&P reduced federal rating to AA.
The idea that we can solve a debt crisis by borrowing more money is, in a word, stupid. As MEP Daniel Hannan chided then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2009, “You can’t spend your way out of recession, or borrow your way out of debt.” This isn’t rocket science. Ask any average Joe who has had to switch to generic brands and beans. It’s simply a matter of living within your means.
The deal claims to reduce spending by about $900 billion, plus another $1.5 trillion to be named later. Sounds great, but don’t miss the fine print. That’s not $900 billion right now. That’s $900 billion over ten years. Ditto the mythical additional cuts that will never actually come to fruition. In other words, it’s an average reduction of $90 billion per year (or $160 billion if you want to indulge in the fantasy) that won’t be binding on future Congresses, and is barely enough to cover the cost of printing the Obamacare bill (one wonders whether Nancy Pelosi has yet read the thing so she knows what’s in it). Even my own Rep is claiming success, but it’s smoke and mirrors.
“But,” you say, “$90 billion is real money. That’s a start.”
No, it isn’t.
To put it in perspective, 2010 federal spending was approximately $3.4 trillion. So a reduction of $90 billion is almost literally nothing—about 2.5%. That’s like a tax refund of a whopping $290 to each American--$5.60 a week; great, I can have one extra Quarter Pounder a week.
Even a modest 5% across-the-board spending reduction (yes, I’ll even include Defense) would have yielded an immediate savings of about $170 billion, and I’ll bet you nobody would have noticed. And that’s before we start talking about specific programs or agencies, or even sacred cow liberal entitlements like Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and food stamps. Consider a sampling of federal agencies we could and should do without:
· Economic Development Administration—awards grants to economically distressed communities to create and preserve jobs (one wonders just how many). Budget: $280,000,000
· Economics and Statistics Administration—analyzes and disseminates economic and demographic data (I thought that was called “the census”). Budget: $100,000,000
· National Institute of Standards and Technology—promotes innovation by advancing measurement science (basically making sure a gram is a gram). Budget: $900,000,000
· Corporation for National and Community Service—provides volunteer opportunities. Budget: $1,000,000,000—that’s right, a cool billion to get people to volunteer
· African Development Foundation—exactly what it sounds like (I’m still trying to find that in the Constitution). Budget: $20,000,000
· General Services Administration—supplies products, facilities, communications, and transportation to other government agencies, and (snicker) manages programs for controlling costs. Budget: $21,000,000,000
· National Endowment for the Arts—undoubtedly an exercise of the Supporting Starving Artists clause in Article I. Budget: $120,000,000
· National Endowment for the Humanities—apparently this is something different than the Arts above. Budget: $167,000,000
· National Science Foundation—funds research (again, I’m searching the Constitution). Budget: $7,000,000,000Eliminating these nine agencies alone would trim an additional $30 billion annually. Then cut, say, half of the $100 billion or so in annual waste identified by the CBO, and you’re at annual savings of $250 billion. Or how about some of these examples of ridiculous earmark spending from Senator Tom Coburn’s 2010 “Wastebook”:
· $44,000,000 for a National Drug Intelligence Center run by the Department of Justice, which has previously asked Congress to shut that Center down as duplicative of efforts by other agencies.
· $64,000,000 to construct a public gun range outside Las Vegas, the operating deficit for which forced the closure of local swimming pools. In Las-Freaking-Vegas, they’re closing swimming pools so they can keep an outdoor gun range? Really?
· $47,600,000 in “stimulus” funding to build a streetcar line in downtown Atlanta . . . on a route already covered by the MARTA subway and bus system.
· $900,000 in “stimulus” funds to put up bicycle traffic signs in Portland . . . that are just slightly different in style than the existing signs . . . which the City plans to keep.
· $3,000,000 from 2008-2010 to a Cal-Irvine professor to play World of Warcraft (she was unable to differentiate between playing the game and her “research” when asked).
· $168,766 to a Columbia University researcher to study the sexual behavior of African Blue Monkeys by examining their feces (somehow I fail to make the connection).
· $442,340 to study male prostitutes in Vietnam (a project that has received some $500,000 annually since 2008).
· $823,200 to study the effects of teaching men in South Africa how to wash their genitals after sex.
· $700,000 to study the greenhouse gas effects of cattle burping and farting.
This is low hanging fruit, and really shouldn’t upset anyone except the professors who will have to find some other way to pay for their computer games and little perversions. Until Congress starts identifying specific cuts, starting with the stupid and patently wasteful and/or unconstitutional, they’re simply not serious about reducing spending. And of course, the dirty little secret is that everyone in these debates knows that running into the debt ceiling without raising it isn’t going to bring the Apocalypse they’ve said it will. So at the end of the day, we’re not reducing spending in any meaningful way, and we’re now going to permit a federal government that is already $14 trillion in the hole to borrow yet trillions more, all to avoid a debt crisis that doesn’t really matter. And we’ve now let Obama skate this issue for the 2012 campaign on top of it.
To paraphrase General Beringer in Wargames, Mr. Speaker, after careful consideration I have come to the conclusion that this new debt ceiling/budget deal sucks.