Sometimes a snapshot tells an entire story. Take one of the signs at last year’s tea party rally in Washington, “Grandma’s not shovel-ready.” That summed up the anti-ObamaCare, pro-smaller government movement in a single image.
Something similar happened recently when Sen. Jim Bunning, a Republican from Kentucky who isn’t seeking re-election, temporarily held up a $10 billion spending bill that was to extend temporary unemployment benefits, make Medicare payments to doctors and provide satellite TV for rural Americans.
Many on the Left painted Bunning as a cranky man who wanted to leave workers unemployed, without access to a doctor and with nothing but snow on their big-screen TVs. Yet his point was important. Congress, after all passed a “PayGo” law this year, saying that any new federal spending had to be offset by eliminating an equal amount elsewhere in the budget.
But when it came time to pass the latest $10 billion extension, lawmakers simply labeled it “emergency spending” and added it to the deficit, ignoring their legal duty to offset the new spending. This is absurd. If they can’t find $10 billion to trim to comply with its own law, can we really expect them to make difficult budget decisions in the years and decades ahead?
Spending is out of control. The federal budget for 2010 calls for $3.5 trillion in spending, up from $2.0 trillion in 2002. There’s no way every dollar of that is absolutely necessary and intelligently spent. But such big spending has encouraged Americans to depend more and more on government -- and for things a lot more important than television.
How overwhelming is that dependence? How much have government programs squeezed out the social obligations and services once carried out by community groups, family networks, and even local governments? That’s the question The Index of Dependence on Government, just published by The Heritage Foundation, aims to answer.
Consider the “Big Three” entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
These mandatory spending programs are on autopilot. Lawmakers never vote on how much to spend on them, yet the costs climb every year. Even worse, they have “first call” on federal spending. So as they grow, they’ll automatically pull money from things that should be national priorities, such as defense spending. Unless Congress reforms entitlements, they could eventually represent virtually all federal spending.