The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

January 23, 2013

Big spending and pork

Bob Harper

TARBORO — This nation has been on an historical spending spree since 2008 and there’s still no end in sight.  In 2008 our national debt was $9.6 trillion, now it’s over $16 trillion and rising.  Do any of us have any concept of how much a trillion dollars is?  I know I don’t.

One of my favorite Senators was the late Sen. Everett Dirksen.  Back in the 1960’s Dirksen said about our government’s spending, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”  Dirksen also said, “We are becoming so accustomed to millions and billions of dollars that “thousands” has almost passed out of the dictionary.”

Today, in the U.S. government, the words millions are virtually never mentioned and thousands never.  The term ‘trillions of dollars’ is common and we the citizens are supposed to accept it as a norm that means little, or nothing, to us or anyone else.

Sen. Dirksen also remarked, “I have said, with respect to authorization bills, that I do not want the Congress or the country to commit fiscal suicide on the installment plan”.  Well, today the installment plan calls for us, our children, our grandchildren and great grandchildren to be paying giant installment payments  perhaps forever.  

At this time each citizen of this country owes almost $52,000, as their share of the national debt.  But, since so many of our citizens pay no taxes, those of us who do pay taxes owe about $140,000.  But, we shouldn’t worry about it, they say, we can just kick the can down the road and everything will be okay…or else we’ll all go to hell in a hand basket.

The thing is, this nation is now entering territory where we’ve never been before.  We’ll soon take in about $277 billion in revenue.  Problem is we face $452 billion in financial obligations.  If that isn’t a problem, then what is?  As Forbes magazine wrote, “Simple math says that a $1.1 trillion deficit on a $3.8 trillion budget is ‘overspending’ by 40 percent.”

Some salaried workers noticed they had a smaller pay check this month.  In still another try at a stimulus, that didn’t work, our administration gave a 4.2 percent tax cut on workers payroll tax.  Now it’s jumped back up to 6.2%.  They used to call that ‘Indian Giving’, but I think the Indian’s were not responsible for that.  This means that the average worker will be paying at least $1,000 more in taxes this year.  

Back to the 1960’s what Senator Dirksen said about millions and billions of dollars is not heard today.  Even back then we had millionaires and billionaires; we still haven’t gotten even close to anyone being a trillionaire.  Our government can work with the trillion numbers but individuals can’t come close to connecting to that concept.

There’s no way we’re going to see this runaway spending end anytime soon.  The only thing we can hope for is to somehow slow it down and hope to introduce some kind of common sense to our president and to congress in Washington.

For a moment let’s say if we start paying back our debt (and not increasing it any more) and we’ll do this by paying a net payment of $50,000 per year, how long would it take to pay off this debt?  Not long…just 512,000,000 years.  That’s right it would only take five hundred and twelve million years, and that’s if we don’t add any more to that debt, which would be too shocking for the president or congress to even think about.  But, it’s not just about wasting our money…it’s the fact that we’re wasting our future.  Makes one wonder just how stupid our grandchildren and great grandchildren will think we were with our voting for such leaders who would break this wonderful country by insane spending.

 Well, we can’t avoid spending on national emergencies, can we?  No we can’t.  We have to respond to such emergencies and spend what it takes.  Our national budget already sets aside an annual budgeted amount for such emergencies.  But, let’s take a look at how some of our politicians use this.

We all know about the recent Hurricane Sandy disaster that did so much damage in New York and New Jersey.  A $20 to $30 billion relief package would have served the purpose just fine.  But, does anyone think that some of our politicians would let an opponunity like this go by without loading it down with tons of unrelated earmarks?  They would also try to use this as a tool to accuse their political opponents of turning their backs on the desperate needs in this area.

The Democrats immediately started adding earmarks to the relief package.  Soon we were looking at a $60 billion bill that doubled the needed funds to take care of the Hurricane Sandy damage.  To name just a few of the added earmarks, there was $150 million for fisheries in Alaska, $58.8 million for forest restoration on private land, $197 million to protect coastal ecosystems and habitat impacted by Hurricane Sandy…and the list goes on and on.

Not everyone was for this bill that now had more pork than a huge hog farm.  The Republicans, led by John Boehner, protested about all the pork in the bill and refused to vote for the bill as it stood.  That’s just what the Democrats wanted.  Now they could accuse the mean old Republicans of not supporting such a needed welfare bill as this.

We should never believe that the title of a bill reflects exactly what’s in the bill.  It virtually never does and never will.

(Bob Harper is a Tarboro resident who writes a column of general interest.)