The Change We've Been Waiting For

Rich Tucker
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Posted: Dec 21, 2010 12:01 AM
The Change We've Been Waiting For

Many Americans are in a bad mood these days.

Recent polls show that two-thirds of us think the country’s headed in the wrong direction.

Unemployment keeps edging up and down, but remains well above nine percent -- far too high. Nearly half of us tell pollsters that China’s economy is larger than ours. In reality, it’s nowhere near as large. Meanwhile, as the private sector keeps losing jobs, the size and scope of government keeps growing.

This is true at all levels of government.

Rep. Cynthia Lummis reports that the federal civilian workforce has added 188,000 employees, a 15 percent jump, since 2008. On the state level, economist John Husing found that California’s economy has not produced a single new net job since 1998. “Public employment has swelled, but private jobs have declined,” Forbes reports. Other states have followed a similar path.

On the local level, remember the small town of Bell, California. There, the city administrator was pulling down almost $800,000, while city council members paid themselves almost $100,000 per year to attend brief meetings.

For elected officials it may be “good work if you can get it,” as the cliché goes, but Americans are worried because today’s soaring budget deficits mean that we’ll be paying for all this government for decades to come.

Furthermore, while the United States needs economic growth, growth alone won’t solve our problems. After all, during most of the George W. Bush years the national economy was booming, but so was federal spending. A supposedly conservative president and Congress worked hand-in-hand to increase discretionary spending. That’s the money lawmakers choose to spend, not what they must spend to support mandatory programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Those, of course, grew during the Bush years as well.

“During his eight years in office, President Bush oversaw a large increase in government spending,” writes economist Veronique de Rugy. “In fact, President Bush increased government spending more than any of the six presidents preceding him, including LBJ. In his last term in office, President Bush increased discretionary outlays by an estimated 48.6 percent.”

In Bush’s eight years, de Rugy reports, federal spending more than doubled, jumping 104 percent. And since President Obama took office in the midst of a recession, he’s greatly increased deficit spending, adding more than a trillion to the deficit two years in a row. Thus there’s no reason to expect that a booming economy would do anything to reduce federal spending or long term debt.

So what might help cheer people up? Real spending cuts that put our country on course for a balanced budget. Doing so wouldn’t be especially difficult.

Analyst Brian Riedl recommends $343 billion lawmakers could trim from the budget simply by ending ineffective programs and reducing waste. If you’d prefer a video version, budget chef Nick Gillespie uses a pile of meat to show how small trims over the coming years would allow us to balance the budget without raising taxes. Finally, the Republican Study Committee in the House also has a plan that would balance the budget.

These are all serious proposals, a fact that distinguishes them from the tomfoolery we’ve suffered from Congress in 2010. First, lawmakers ignored public opinion and used parliamentary tricks to pass ObamaCare, a massive entitlement program that could drive the government into bankruptcy.

Later, House lawmakers decided not to bother passing a budget (the first time that’s happened in the modern era) and they put off considering whether to reauthorize the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts until the last minute. Having spent 12 months avoiding its own budget responsibilities, the Senate ended the year by trying to pass a massive, pork-heavy omnibus spending bill. Conservatives managed to kill that measure, which will give the new Congress a chance to pass a better budget in 2011.

People are ready for real change. If lawmakers want to cheer us up, they could try being serious.