Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

November 5, 2013

Is Congress finally getting serious about spending and the debt?

— — The Congressional Fiscal 2014 Budget Conference Committee met for the first time last week. It is a bipartisan, bicameral committee that includes all members of the Senate Budget Committee, and the chairman and ranking members on the House side, is about even politically, with 15 Democrats and 14 Republicans, but is heavily weighted toward the Senate, with 22 senators and seven representatives.

The budget reform panel was mandated in the bill that raised the debt ceiling and ended the government shutdown, and has until Dec. 13 to find a budget compromise or face the likelihood of another government shutdown in mid-January when funding for the government runs out.

The group is reportedly focused on finding ways to replace across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, with more sensible reductions in federal largess.

Representative Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is chair of the joint committee, and in opening remarks said that the debt held by the public has doubled in just the last five years and is only getting worse. It’s a drag on the economy, he said. With 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring every day, Medicare and Social Security are going broke.

The debt, he said, hurts economic growth and job creation, and noted the message from the Congressional Budget Office, which warned that if something isn’t done soon, there will be a debt crisis. “We’ve got to get a handle on our debt, and we have got to get a handle on it now,” he stated, and the way he believes we must work our way out of this is through tax reform, including getting rid of carve-outs and kickbacks, and through a growing economy, and not by raising taxes.

The federal budget is a huge mess. In fiscal year 2013 the federal government took in revenue of $2.8 trillion, but spent $3.5 trillion, and owes $17 trillion to debt holders.

This compares to a family of four that earns $36,000 annually, but spends $45,000 each year and has accumulated debt totaling $219,000. This family clearly needs to cut down on its spending.

But the federal government cannot do that. At least not if we believe House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who said in an interview in September on CNN’s “State of the Union” that, “The cupboard is bare. There’s (sic) no more cuts to make. It’s really important that people understand that.”

Ms. Pelosi is apparently unaware that the federal government spent your tax dollars on such important things as exotic dancers, robotic squirrels, studying pig poop and a reality TV show in India. And she also doesn’t know about the Government Accountability Office estimate of roughly $17 billion of improper Medicare payments each year, or the billions of dollars of mismanagement, corruption and wasteful spending in federal housing subsidies, and the fraud and abuse in the food stamp program, school lunch, and child care programs, and in Veteran’s Affairs.

Maybe she’s forgotten that we pay people with our tax dollars at the NSA to record terabytes of information about us, and IRS employees to harass Republican/conservative organizations applying for non-profit status, and federal SWAT teams to kick down the doors of people whose student loans are in arrears and besiege a mine operation in Alaska to check for compliance with the Clean Water Act.

And then there are the 31 areas of spending on duplicative federal programs, spelled out in a report by the Government Accountability Office that waste billions annually, such as at least 23 different federal agencies running hundreds of programs to support renewable energy, and the 29 Department of Homeland Security contracts that partly or completely overlapped with research being done by another part of the same department.

Despite these examples of waste, fraud and abuse, and also despite the record $2.8 trillion in revenue the federal treasury collected in fiscal year 2013 — which provided President Barack Obama the opportunity to claim credit for a sizeable reduction in the annual budget deficit — Nancy Pelosi thinks that in negotiations about debt reduction “revenue needs to be on the table.”

But, no, Ms. Pelosi. You and your big spending comrades don’t get another dime.

Before the middle class or even the wealthiest Americans are further burdened with additional taxes, the federal government needs to get its act together and start operating efficiently. It must eliminate the billions of dollars in waste, fraud and abuse, and eliminate duplication.

Taxes should be evenly applied and high enough to support only essential government services. And, the most important word in that concept is “essential.”

Congress must get rid of carve-outs and kickbacks, eliminate pork barrel projects, stop the unconstitutional passing of Congressional responsibility to executive branch agencies, and restrict legislative activity to necessary and useful laws.

And the federal government must begin to operate with an attitude that demonstrates the obligation every federal worker — from the president of the United States, to cabinet secretaries, to members of Congress, to the lowest paid employee — owes to the people they work for, the taxpayers. Perhaps then each of them will earn through job performance the high status some of them assume they are due “just because” they hold a high elective or appointed position.

James H. “Smokey” Shott, a resident of Bluefield, Va., is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

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