By now those holiday bills have arrived. Those who have charged too much have cut back on spending until the bills are paid. Some have gone on the spending wagon, cutting their plastic into tiny pieces.>
Not the U.S. government. Unlike mere mortals, the government can print and borrow seemingly limitless amounts of money and so has little incentive to stop spending. Some blame China for our predicament, but that's like blaming American Express for your monthly bill. China is merely the banker. Our spending habits are the problem.
Just as Democrats have increased the national debt to record levels these last two years, Republicans are now proposing to ratchet it down to more manageable levels.
Freshman conservatives in the House have united behind a proposal to cut at least $100 billion in non-defense spending. Rep. Jim Jordan, (R-OH) chairs a study committee made up of economic and socially conservative members. He says that with a $14 trillion debt, "it seems to me we should be able to find $100 billion" to cut.
Because each dollar spent by government immediately attracts people and groups who have a vested interest in keeping the money flowing, conservative House members need to personalize spending reductions to counter the liberal argument that cutting anything will mean starving grandmothers and abandoning children to the streets.
"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," said John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address, recalled recently as we marked the 50th anniversary of that event. "Ask what you can do for yourself" might be the updated Republican version.
Each program Republicans want to cut should be subject to four questions: 1. Is it necessary? 2. Could it be done better and more responsibly in the private sector? 3. Is it constitutionally justifiable? 4. Can we afford it?
Don't families have to ask similar questions about affordability and necessity when trying to reduce their debt? Why can't government do the same?
Members should embrace the work of Citizens Against Government Waste, www.CAGW.org, which has compiled 763 recommendations for cutting wasteful spending it calls "Prime Cuts." CAGW estimates that if all its suggestions were adopted, taxpayers would save $350 billion in the first year and $2.2 trillion over five years.
Take one of their many examples: elimination of the Essential Air Service, which Congress established as part of the Federal Aviation Act, to ensure that, following airline deregulation, smaller communities would retain a link to the national air transportation system, some by way of federal subsidy.
According to CAGW, "the most absurd recipients of EAS subsidies is the Johnstown, Pa., airport, tirelessly defended by the late Congressman John Murtha (D-Pa.), but from which just 18 flights leave each week. Johnstown is only two hours east of Pittsburgh International Airport by car." And, as noted by the Los Angeles Times in 2009, "The Essential Air Service spends as much as thousands per passenger in remote areas ... much of the money provides service to areas with fewer than 30 passengers per day."
There are thousands of programs like this. Each one needs to be exposed as wasteful and unaffordable. The "granny" and "what about the children?" argument should be confronted and shown to be the fraud that it is and a manipulative technique for maintaining the status quo. So should threats to close libraries, as Mayor Christopher Coleman of St. Paul recently suggested might happen without a tax increase. That's diversionary talk designed to switch attention from unnecessary spending.
Liberals have long played political theater by bringing people to Washington with sob stories about their supposed inability to help themselves without government. Conservatives should do the same, but with people who have overcome their dependency on programs and government checks and have been transformed into independent producers. Their stories, the real stories of America, are legion. Their coverage in the media has been miniscule.
So, let the spending cuts begin, but let Republican conservatives demonstrate a better way, which is freedom from addiction to government. The addicted will learn that economic freedom is on a par with political freedom. It begins when federal and state governments start cutting up their "credit cards."
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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