As Heritage Foundation budget expert Brian Riedl notes in a recent Web Memo, lawmakers are spending at such a frantic clip that if they don’t stop the madness, within a decade taxes will have to increase by nearly $7,000 per household just to balance the budget. And that’s on top of the $18,000 per family Congress is already collecting.
According to Riedl, the current spree has expanded government by 45 percent since 2001, and it shows no sign of slowing down. You and I must live within our means, but Washington politicians act as if they have absolutely no responsibility to do something as basic as paying their own way -- to make sure they don’t spend more than they have, confident that somebody else will foot the bill when the party ends.
But help may be on the way -- if, that is, lawmakers have the guts to get serious about changing their ways. A new budget proposal by the Republican Study Committee offers such a blueprint. Titled “Contract With America: Renewed,” it outlines the tough choices necessary to get spending under control and thus avert the crippling tax increases we would otherwise face. The RSC proposal would, for example:
• Balance the budget by fiscal year 2011.
• Reduce the net deficit by $392 billion.
• Promote tax policy designed to encourage economic growth.
• Eliminate all pork projects from the recent highway bill. The money, earmarked for numerous long-term projects, hasn’t been spent yet and still could be rescinded.
• Return the gas tax and the federal highway program to the states. As Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner writes in his new book, “Getting America Right,” it made sense for the federal government to build roads in 1956, when the lack of a country-wide highway system compromised interstate commerce and national defense. But it doesn’t make sense today. As Feulner writes, “Absent a clear and present national danger, are highways really Washington’s business?”
• Pare back education spending, which has soared 137 percent since 2001.
• Eliminate dozens of programs such as the Advanced Technology Program, a “notorious bit of corporate welfare,” Riedl notes.
In addition, the RSC budget includes important budget-process reforms that would change the bias toward spending that taints Washington budget-making. One such reform is a line-item veto to help shrink the federal budget. A serious proposal for a line-item veto emerged last week. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., is sponsoring the Legislative Line Item Veto Act, which, he says, would allow the president to eliminate wasteful spending and special-interest tax breaks from specific bills.
Lawmakers are never going to stop spending beyond their means (or, I should say, our means) as long as they're able to stuff every spending bill with tons of pet projects and other boondoggles. As Feulner says in “Getting America Right,” just as it’s irresponsible to spend what you don’t have, it’s irresponsible to waste what you do have. As stewards of the people’s money, members of Congress have a duty to ensure that every penny is used as wisely and carefully as if it were their own personal funds.
As Steve Forbes recently said in a letter urging citizens read “Getting America Right”:
Our government today is larger than it ever has been in history. Spending has grown more in the past five years than any time since Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House. And our leaders in Washington have created new entitlements for the first time in decades. Lyndon Johnson would be proud.
But many of the self-described conservatives who hold the top posts in Congress and the White House don’t even see this as a problem. It may be big government, they say, but at least it’s our big government. I’m sure you’ve heard it too, repeated on television and in the newspapers. The spending spree is abominable, and making up lame excuses to justify it is just sickening.
Thank the good Lord that the conservatives who compose the Republican Study Committee understand that the government actually belongs to the people -- to you and to me, the taxpayers. The budget they’ve proposed shows they are determined to return sanity to budget-making in Washington -- to start spending like mature adults, not teenagers with their parents’ credit cards.
And if they don't? As Feulner writes, “Leaders who refuse to behave responsibly and meet our demands should be voted out of office and replaced by elected representatives who will.”