A conservative friend posted a clever and shrewd tweet today. Democrats (and some Republicans) on the Senate Finance Committee are holding up confirmation of US trade representative Robert Lighthizer, demanding a bailout of union miners’ pension funds in exchange for their votes. What’s new? This kind of arm-twisting politics is standard operating procedure in Congress. But my friend’s exasperated reaction to the benevolent-sounding Miners Protection Act points out a fact that never seems to occur to anybody inside the Beltway: “Taxpayers are not ATMs! It’s not your money to give away!”
I realized a while back that most legislators (and presidents for that matter) don’t worry about taxpayer disapproval when they pass a spending bill. Here’s why:
- Most voters don’t pay federal income tax, or pay very little. They don’t feel personally impacted by government spending, because they think the money is extracted from somebody else – the “rich guys”. Members of Congress (especially Democrats who rely on low-income or no-income voters to keep them in office) are heroes to their constituents when they spend more money. In fact, incumbent legislators are almost always re-elected because they can brag about “bringing home the bacon” to their home districts.
- Americans don’t worry about spending more money because there doesn’t seem to be any down-side. Unlike families or businesses, the government never runs out of money, regardless of tax revenue or spending levels. Our leaders have learned that they can print and/or borrow money without limit, because nobody has the courage to shut down the government and send employees home. Yes, we have a $20 trillion debt. Yes, interest on savings has been non-existent for many years. Yes, wages have been stagnant for decades as the government crowds out private enterprise, gobbling an ever-growing bite of the GDP pie. Yes, if continued it will all come crumbling down on the heads of our children and grandchildren. But the average Joe still doesn’t relate government spending to his own financial well-being. In fact, most people think more government spending helps them.
- And when you get right down to it, our congressmen are only doing what they were born to do. The job description of a legislator can be boiled down to four words. What do you do for a living? Spend other people’s money. The rain falls. The wind blows. Congressmen spend. It is existential. In the eyes of a government official, the solution to every problem is to spend more money. If he isn’t spending money, he is a “do nothing” congressman.
Fortunately, the election showed that there are still (barely) enough Americans with a grasp on reality to step on the brakes before our nation careens off the financial cliff, taking the civilized world along for the plunge. Our voices were finally heard. But the narrow victory last November was just the beginning. Too many of our leaders either still don’t get it, or will soon forget that they got it. We may have stopped at the edge of the cliff. But the cliff is still there.
We can’t eliminate all government spending, and in some strategic areas we will have to invest more than we have in recent years. But it’s childish and dangerous to think that all of our current expenditures are still necessary and untouchable, and our only option is to spend more.
Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side
Some men climb a mountain,
Some men swim the sea,
Some men fly above the sky:
They are what they must be.
But, baby the rain must fall,
Baby, the wind must blow,
Wherever my heart leads me
Baby, I must go. Baby I must go.
Glenn Yarbrough – Baby The Rain Must Fall
The music scene in the early 60s went through a sometimes awkward transition from “folk” music to “rock”. The Band was Bob Dylan’s backup group when he first put down his acoustic guitar and went electric. After getting booed off the stage every night for weeks, Robbie Robertson, Levi Helm and the rest of The Band quit and went their own way, but Dylan soldiered on, clearly ahead of his time. Here’s another example of the folk/rock insurgency: check out the blonde dancer bravely bouncing through folkster Glenn Yarbrough’s smoothie!