A basic tenet common to the Tea Parties, Libertarians and conservatives of all types is the reduction of government spending with a view to the reduction of the national deficit and lowered tax rates going forward.
There is not one Republican who disagrees with that goal. At least there are none that will disagree with it publicly with only about a month left before the 2010 midterms. In House and Senate races that are too close to call, even Democrats are sounding a lot like Tea Partiers, with sincere sounding calls for fiscal responsibility.
Democrats in fail-safe districts, such as San Francisco, who don’t need to appear even slightly rational, and those who are lucky enough to not appear on the November ballot, counter with the condescending question “Well, what spending could you cut?” as if the idea of cutting is utterly ludicrous. For all their Ivy League educations, they apparently have never learned the quintessential American axiom: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”
In considering what could and should be cut, most people cite a list of the most well known “entitlements” such as welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, and so on, as well as what the ruling class refers to as discretionary or legislatively directed spending. That’s what people in the country class call “pork.”
There are innumerable programs that could, and most probably should, be eliminated. America could probably defer indefinitely an in depth exploration of pre-historic bat guano in Antarctica for instance.
While all these things should be looked at by our legislators with an eye toward economy, the question itself, and the answers that the question generates are based on a fallacious assumption. The assumption is that it will always be someone else’s entitlement that is pared back, or eliminated. It will always be the other guy’s ox that is gored.
The question and the answers ignore one simple and obvious fact: Every single dollar spent by the government, at any level, feeds some sort of entitlement program, and directly or indirectly every American is a “welfare” recipient.
Some may question whether or not certain expenditure types, such as interest on the national debt, can be called an entitlement payment. Perhaps is not a directly traceable “welfare” payment, but it definitely is an indirect entitlement cost. At some point the government borrowed money to do something that wasn’t funded by current tax revenue (say, just hypothetically of course, an extension of unemployment benefits), and the interest just comes along for the ride. It is an additional cost of providing the entitlement. And using that same logic, wouldn’t the salaries of civil servants who process the welfare checks be an additional cost of providing that entitlement even though the welfare recipient never gets a nickel of it? This means that the total reported cost of the various entitlement, welfare and wealth transfer payments are vastly understated. Ignoring major elements of cost, such as labor and interest have a way of doing that.
Almost all of us get some sort of tax abatement, if not an actual check from the government. For instance there are various property tax abatements based on age, veteran status, and so on. And it’s very easy to feel entitled to those benefits. Then is applying the term “welfare” to such abatements merely verbal overkill? Of course it is. Our friends in the Democratic Party prefer using words like “entitlement” rather than “charity” because they want those groups that they have favored with wealth transfers to feel good about taking our money. So they change the label. Sort of like the folks who can tuna fish. Tuna was originally known as horse mackerel, and they couldn’t even give it away until they changed its name. Calling charity an entitlement is the same sort of marketing ploy.
Those of us opposed to such governmental giveaways need to label behaviors that ultimately hurt the nation in more unflattering terms to encourage people to avoid them. So we need to use words like “charity” and “welfare.” No matter what you call it, it’s still the same fish.
The question should be restated, not just by Pelosi, Reid and Obama, but by the Tea Parties and Republicans as well. It is even more important for the Tea Parties to ask the question correctly than the President, since the Tea Parties currently have measurably more credibility than Barak Obama.
The question should not ask “What should be cut?”, but rather “What will you personally be willing to give up?”
If you have a mortgage on your home, would you be willing to give up your mortgage interest deduction? Would you give up half of it? What? Oh, you don’t consider the deduction that the government graciously allows you for the interest on your mortgage to be welfare or an entitlement? Ask yourself this, then – What exactly did you do to earn that deduction? You bought a house. If you hadn’t bought the house, no deduction, right? Would you have bought a house if there had been no interest deduction?
Are people who choose to live in apartments less worthy of government support than you are?
If you use mass transit, would you be willing to pay more to reduce the amount of the subsidies from city, state and federal governments? Again, ask why you should be favored over someone who needs transportation to get to work, just as you do, but has no mass transit available? The annual cost of purchasing, maintaining, repairing a car and filling it with gas can run thousands of dollars more than the cost of bus or subway fares. That being so, ask yourself why you are entitled to government support to get yourself to work while others aren’t.
Would you be willing to pay more for your groceries if price supports for produce and milk were eliminated? Ultimately, a new supply and demand equilibrium not based on price supports would be determined that might actually be lower for the consumer and better for the farmer, once the government “middle-men” are removed and their salaries and expenses are eliminated from the transaction.
If you have kids in school, would you be willing to pay a fee to have your child educated? Obviously not the nearly $10,000 that school boards and teachers unions estimate as the cost per child, but a nominal fee. If nothing else, that fee would result in a serendipitous improvement in parental interest in just how the schools are spending that money. When you personally have to send a check, how will you feel about paying for teachers who teach art or music? Would you reclassify them from an “absolutely must have it” item to the “nice to have but we can live without it” category?
Would you be willing to receive your mail only five days a week? How about home delivery of mail only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday? Do you really need a daily dose of junk mail?
Would you be willing to wait in longer lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles if a hiring freeze ultimately reduced civil service headcounts? Do you even think that longer lines are possible?
Would you be willing to give up a Department of Parks and Recreation in your community? Students of Jefferson’s immortal words, “… they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” generally do not recognize an addendum that reads, “and a Little League baseball field…” If baseball fields, tennis courts, and soccer fields are really important to you, shouldn’t you be willing to pay a fee for to at least maintain those playing fields?
Some may say that these are local issues, or at most state-wide issues. If the country were operating under a strict interpretation of the Constitution, these critics would be absolutely correct. But when a city, such as New York or Los Angeles, blows their budget on Little League fields, they ask their respective states to bail them out. The states which support this spending on a local level are then forced to ask the federal government for a bailout, which completely undermines the argument that spending can be neatly divided between Federal, State and local control.
When controls over spending are nonexistent, the idea of neatly dividing responsibility among the political subdivisions of the country fails in both theory and practice.
So again, the question must again be asked in the right way. What are you willing to give up? Don’t answer with a list of what you are willing to take away from someone else. What are YOU willing to sacrifice, because make no mistake, sacrifice is unavoidable.
We have to recognize that we all own an ox. And that ox will be gored. This time it won’t be, and can’t be, only the other guy’s ox.