Last year was supposed to be the year of fiscal austerity. Conservatives supposedly achieved enough momentum to effect meaningful cuts to reckless spending, and to shrink government.
So what happened? Far too little.
“Republicans in Congress had forced a historic shift: Washington, for the first time in years, was focused on cutting, not growing, the budget,” explainedWashington Post congressional beat writer David A. Fahrenthold. “But then, politicians in both parties choked on the decisions that came next: Where to cut. Who to hurt. What to kill. Instead, they allowed sequestration, a policy that – at least in theory – cut the good and the bad equally.”
But cutting the good and the bad actually is closer to all bad. Why institute $42.7 billion in defense cuts and $595 million in border security cuts in Fiscal Year 2013 when there still are virtually countless examples of wasteful expenditures floating around, such as $5 million in crystal glassware purchased by the State Department, or a $98,670 single-toilet outhouse on an Alaskan trailhead?
Here’s why: Too many of our lawmakers cave when it comes to making choices that, to the average taxpayer, appear to be simple common sense.
“The only way Congress can make cuts is across the board, because they have trouble making decisions,” Robert L. Bixby told the Post. He’s executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group seeking to reduce the federal deficit. “If you’re trying to limit the scope of government, or the function, it doesn’t accomplish that goal at all. It just gives you less money to accomplish the same goals, which is why it doesn’t really work over the long term.”
Here’s just one item that typifies the insanity of sequester cuts: In Cartersville, Ga., there’s an airfield where a contractor collects $6,600 a month from the federal government for a plane that doesn’t fly.
The Aero Marti plane is outfitted with equipment to send uncensored TV broadcast signals to communist Cuba. But Cuba jammed the signals almost immediately after the plane first took flight, and only about 1 percent of Cubans were found to have even watched the programming anyway.
But Congress, when tasked to actually cut specific programs this year, inexplicably refused to cut Aero Marti loose. And across-the-board sequester cuts stripped Aero Marti of its funding for fuel and pilots.
So there the plane sits in Cartersville, useless. And taxpayers, it’s on your dime.
And don’t think we got even a dime’s worth of progress out of the budget compromise struck recently by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
“We didn’t get everything we wanted,” Murray told NBC’s Meet the Press. “But I’ll tell you what we did get is certainty for the next couple years.”
Certainty of what? That the can has been sufficiently kicked far enough down the road? The deal does little more than boost deficit spending now in exchange for supposed cuts later. Romina Boccia, the Grover M. Hermann Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs for the Heritage Foundation, has pointed out that “half of the deficit reduction included in this deal wouldn’t occur until after 2022.”
Possibly the most galling aspect of bureaucratic profligacy is that the federal government takes in trillions – about $3 trillion in fiscal 2013, by one estimate – yet the money’s use and the inefficiency of its distribution never seems to be questioned.
This year needs to be the year that our elected representatives start asking the right questions to make the right fiscal decisions for our nation.