Looking through historical data, running a deficit isn’t new or unusual. It is a testament to the failure of our elected representatives to run the government within its means, like we mere citizens are expected to with our personal finances. Back in 1857 the national debt was “only” $28,699,831.85, and from there on it has gotten worse. It crossed the one trillion dollar mark in 1982.
In recent years, annual operating deficits have increased the debt roughly 500 billion dollars each year from 2002 until 2008 when the deficit jumped to a full trillion dollars. In 2009, the deficit jumped to two trillion dollars and was 1.3 trillion dollars in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The big spenders are so out of control these days that they routinely spend 40 percent more than the nation collects in tax revenue.
What on Earth are they spending so much money on?
That list runs the gamut from constitutionally required government activities to expenditures on questionable and even unconstitutional activities. It includes using appropriate methods to dispense the money, and using methods that are politically advantageous, but often questionable or improper. And, it includes fraud, waste and abuse, aptly illustrated by the 2010 GSA boondoggle costing taxpayers more than $800,000 dollars.
One controversial method of determining who gets taxpayer money, but one that is very popular among lawmakers, is the earmarking process. The Federal Office of Management and Budget defines earmarks as “funds provided by the Congress for projects, programs, or grants where the purported congressional direction circumvents otherwise applicable merit-based or competitive allocation processes, or specifies the location or recipient, or otherwise curtails the ability of the executive branch to manage its statutory and constitutional responsibilities pertaining to the funds allocation process.”
Some defend it as a more efficient way to get budgeted federal money where it is most needed than leaving it to administrative agencies to distribute; others say it is a way for congresspersons to reward friends and buy votes. As the 112th Congress cranked up in January of 2011 there was a bipartisan agreement to do away with earmarks. However, Representative Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) recommended that lawmakers bring back earmarks in a closed-door Republican Caucus meeting on March 30, 2012. “There was a lot of applause when I made my comments,” he said. “By and large it was very well embraced.” For this suggestion, Mr. Rogers won the April “Porker of the Month” award from Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW).
CAGW is at war with pork-barrel spending, which the organization identifies using seven criteria, any one of which qualifies spending as pork. They are: spending requested by only one chamber of Congress; 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.
Evaluating the 111th Congress, the last Congress to have completed both sessions, CAGW said: “In a time of runaway spending and sky-high debt, lawmakers should have supported every opportunity to cut wasteful and unnecessary expenditures. The House and Senate each had 11 opportunities to strike pork, prohibit earmarking, rescind superfluous funds, and reduce overall spending levels. A majority voted against each and every one of these 22 measures, a stunning 100 percent rate of failure to trim the fat and protect taxpayer interests.”
The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste analyzed legislators’ voting to support the interests of taxpayers by reducing spending based on party affiliation and House membership in the Republican Study Committee and Blue Dog Democrats. “The averages were: Senate Republicans – 90 percent, up nine percentage points from their 81 percent score in 2009; Senate Democrats – 8 percent, down two percentage points from their grade of 10 percent in 2009; House Republicans – 86 percent, up 15 percentage points from their 71 percent score in 2009; House Democrats – 8 percent, up four percentage points from their 4 percent score in 2009; House Republican Study Committee – 91 percent, up 11 percentage points from their 80 percent score in 2009; and House Blue Dog Democrats – 18 percent, up seven percentage points from their 11 percent score in 2009.”
There are also foolish levels of duplication of government programs. Here are some examples from the Government Accountability Office: Twenty agencies operate 56 programs dedicated to financial literacy; there are 80 economic development programs at four agencies costing $6.5 billion; the Department of Transportation spends $58 billion on 100 programs run by five agencies with 6,000 employees that haven’t changed since 1956; at least five departments, eight agencies and more than two dozen presidential appointees oversee $6.48 billion related to bioterrorism.
One searches diligently for some evidence that President Barack Obama and his party take seriously their obligation to be good stewards of the public’s finances, but finds none. Their solution is to raise taxes on the most productive Americans, not to be thrifty with spending.