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Why The Federal Deficit is So Large

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Federal entitlements, which comprise 60% of the budget, have been correctly identified as the root cause of our growing annual deficit. We certainly need to enact significant reforms of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. However, in order to achieve some level of fiscal integrity, there is an equally important change that we must all accept – just saying no.

This became apparent when Congress went home for their August break without an agreement on an FAA funding bill – leaving 4,000 federal employees out of work for 13 days. The center of this dispute – and a pristine illustration of how callously Congress regards our money – is the allocation of hundreds of millions of dollars for construction and operation of airports so remotely located that they are, in effect, rarely used. Our Congress, far more comfortable with trading favors than budgetary discipline, continues to underwrite these pointless expenses when what we need more than ever is the ghost of Susan Powter to descend over our capital, screaming “Stop the Insanity!”

The preceding is just one example of our irrational spending habits. Here are others:

1. The Postal Service. The USPS was transformed in 1971 as an independent, self-supporting entity – which last year was underwritten to the tune of $8 billion. Congress should have dictated a balanced budget for the service years ago, but individual members demand that underutilized post offices remain open and that money-losing services are maintained. Of course, they have a franking privilege (free mailing), so it doesn’t affect them personally. If this boondoggle weren’t underwritten with OPM (other people’s money), this operation would have been either slashed or in bankruptcy years ago.

2. Defense bases. There is a legitimate debate about the cost of our defense, but unfortunately this contains too little discussion about the need to consolidate our military bases (principally because every time this topic arises, a national war breaks out). There’s no doubt that federal funds expended to support these bases inject a huge amount of money into local economies. In a time of overwhelming deficits, it’s time that Congress put the interests of the nation ahead of those of their individual districts.

Many bases could be reduced in size (or closed). Land could be sold off; excess supplies liquidated, and scrap metal exchanged for valuable dollars. Once again, this generally isn’t done because it’s OPM.

3. Underwriting illegal aliens. America has struggled with its budget for the last 30 years, with only a brief period where we weren’t racking up significant debts. And yet, somehow we’ve decided that we can provide extensive services to people who enter this country in violation of our immigration laws.

Let’s put aside for a moment the immense costs to maintain border patrol and deportation services. Why would a country that doesn’t have enough funds to cover its most basic responsibilities take on the obligation for health care and education for those who came here illegally?

We can sympathize with those people who risk their lives to come here from countries that offer them little or no opportunity. However, it is not our obligation to fund their needs – if it were, then we should also be writing monthly checks to the people of Haiti, Cambodia and Sudan. Despite massive deficits, the Obama Administration has chosen to abandon deportation efforts for illegal immigrants who are not convicted felons.

California, which has not had a balanced budget in ten years despite a legal requirement to do so, recently enacted a law to provide college financial aid to children of illegal immigrants. The bill allows access to taxpayer-funded assistance for students who came to the country before age 16, attended a California high school for at least three years, and graduated (a cartoon character could accomplish that challenge.) Ironically, this law was passed in the same session in which the legislature cut funding to the UC and Cal State systems, resulting in fee increases for American citizens of up to 40%.

4. Emergency costs. No one in their right mind would argue that our governments shouldn’t help Americans affected by a major calamity such as a hurricane, earthquake or tornado. But where does it say that we should underwrite individual losses?

Saving lives, repairing roads and railways, and providing aid to temporarily displaced citizens is a basic aspect of government. Unfortunately, a significant amount of the losses are due to individuals living or building in hazardous areas. If insurance companies won’t insure these people, why should the government step in and cover the cost?

All of these outlays have a common element: parochialism greased by OPM. If elected officials ever thought beyond their own next election and realized that not only is the money not theirs to spend, but it is money we can’t even afford, they might actually reconsider their votes.

There is always another need, but do we have to pay for all of them? Leftists are always screaming about how Republicans want to put grandma out of her house and starve children. What the GOP actually wants is for government to cut back where it is responsible to do so.

If the Super Committee looked at these areas, they could save billions of truly wasted dollars. Our new Congress has recently displayed the ability to do the right thing and cut unnecessary programs. If they did it again, America might once more discover the road to fiscal sanity.

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