Does Pork Go With Tea?

So I’m trying to build a case that we, as a country, are moving farther to right in general, but not all, issues.  But I’ll go on a tangent for a moment to look at the hypocrisy of the new darlings of the political landscape – The Palin Teatoters.  To say these fine people are hypocrites would be to imply that they know what they are doing runs counter to their their values and they engage in it anyway – so calling them hypocrites isn’t really accurate.  Calling them morons is also too easy.  I’m sure that many of them have graduated from high school, but may have simply struggled with mathematics – it happens…

The problem though lies completely with the math.  Now, I’m no Ph.D. in economics, nor do I have a Masters degree in advanced mathematics, but it’s pretty simple – for those of us with incomes and expenses – to see that the problems facing our government, regardless of the side of the political spectrum you may choose to align yourself with, is simple – we spend more money than we bring in.  Many Americans have found themselves in this boat over the years – we buy more on credit than we bring in.  We have every intention of paying down those credit bills later, after we’ve established a better budget, done some debt consolidation, taken out an equity loan to pay for that last vacation, or hoping for that next raise – whatever, ultimately, many have found themselves without the resources to make good on all the borrowed cash and fall into financial ruin.

The government is in the same boat.  Many Americans, but most especially our Tea Partying cousins, are sick of the debt and demanding that the government rein in spending and get the budget under control.  But the mathematical equation that they’ve set up is a fallacy.  Cutting taxes while cutting spending does not equate to lowering the deficit – especially when the Teaers still want government services like Medicare Scooters.

Now raising taxes in a bad economy is probably not the best way to stimulate the economy, but making the Bush Tax Cuts permanent seems to be a recipe for a debt disaster as well.  It’s pretty self-evident; but apparently our elected representatives don’t quite see it in order to balance the budget, we need to spend less than we take in.  That certainly isn’t what we are doing now.

When Bill Clinton left office in 2001, the Congressional Budget Office projected between a 800-1,600 billion dollar surplus.  Within three years, the Bush Administration squandered the surplus through a bad economy, a tax cut that was not necessary, and two wars.  It’s been downhill ever since.

Here’s the problem – in FY 2010 we the people of the United States of America are spending $164 Billion dollars — which amounts to twice as much money as we invest in intelligence — to simply pay the interest on the debt we acquired.  We brought in an estimated $2.4 trillion in revenues but we have nearly $2.2 trillion in MANDATORY spending that can not be touched.  Mandatory spending includes items like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as the interest on the debt – lest China do a foreclosure of its own on America….

This leaves roughly $200 billion available for use in discretionary spending (which would include paying down the principle on the debt we’ve taken on), but we actually spend another $1.2 trillion on top of that on things that are nice to have (which is how discretionary spending needs to be viewed) but can’t afford without borrowing.  Now that discretionary spending includes trivial things like maintaining a military and providing it the equipment it needs to accomplish its mission; Veteran care, highway repair, airport security, education dollars that are provided to states and your local school districts – you know, the minor things…but thse are exactly the things that we are going to need to look at carefully because the fact of the matter is we can no longer afford them.

This is the equivalent of looking at your personal budget and deciding that you are going to have to do without cable, eating macaroni and cheese for a month, cutting the gym membership, and selling the car that you still owe $20K on.  So where do the cuts start?

This part is actually easier than it might seem.  Let’s start with pork.  Pork is as bipartisan as apple pie.  I’m not picking on Republicans or Democrats when it comes to dining at the trough – they’re equal whores. 

According to the Pig Book, pork barrel spending for 2010 was over $16 billion.  What constitutes pork?  Here’s the criteria the Pig Book uses:

CAGW’s seven criteria, but most satisfy at least two:

  • Not specifically authorized;
  • Not competitively awarded;
  • Not requested by the President;
  • Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding;
  • Not the subject of congressional hearings; or
  • Serves only a local or special interest.

Now, you can check the various projects funded by pork spending and justify many as being in the greater good for your congressional district, state, country, or mankind in general, but the fact remains, we are spending money that isn’t ours and in more cases than not, providing that money to business sectors and/or interests that lobby congress for these funds in the first place.  Every GOP senator and representative wants to slash the budgets of National Public Radio or the National Endowment of the Arts when in fact the budgets for these programs is a pittance compared to the money spent on pork. I’m not defending either NPR or NEA in this case – just pointing out the algebraic flaw in the math.

Colin Powell, on Larry King, summed up the issue more eloquently than I can:

KING: What about the stories, though, that the base — the central aspect of the Republican Party doesn’t like them, that in a sense it’s going to affect them?
POWELL: Well, I think the Tea Party movement is going to put pressure on Republicans and on Democrats. And at the same time, some of the things that the Tea Party movement is asking for are not achievable. And I’m not sure it’s right. It’s not doable to say we want to cut spending, we want to reduce the deficit, but we don’t want to increase revenue.
This algebraic equation will not work. And so I —
KING: You can’t have it both ways.
POWELL: You can’t have it every way. And so when I hear people say, well, we’re going to cut spending and the moderators or interrogators, such as you say, how are you going to do it, they say we’re going to freeze spending.
Well, freeze spending doesn’t tell you anything. They never do it. Don’t tell me you’re going to freeze spending, tell me what you’re going to cut. What service are you not going to provide to the American people that they now are expecting?
When you look at the growth of government in the last 10 or 15 years — and people complain about that — do you want to get rid of the Transportation Security Administration? Do you want to get rid of the Homeland Security Department? The director of National Intelligence?
All the other things that have been created in the last 10 or 15 years because the American people needed them. And so I’ve always been a believer in let’s have the government that we need to perform the functions that we need.
Anything that is not necessary let’s get rid of it, of course. And let’s take a hard look at everything that people say is necessary and make sure that, hmmm, are we sure, and let’s get rid of it.
And so the only way to reduce the size of the government is to cut things, not freeze things and not pretend that we’re only going to give it a certain percentage of increase. You’ve got to eliminate things.

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