Some had been waiting for more than an hour – sitting in a line of cars that stretched for blocks. Others had arrived hours early, just to be the first in line. Local radio and morning television teased their audience with hints and sparse details before finally making the announcement. After that, the location and details spread like wildfire via text, Twitter and Facebook. What was so important that hundreds would wait in line so long? A new lifesaving medicine? Free hundred dollar bills? A fabulous celebrity cruise? No, nothing quite that glamorous. Americans for Prosperity was offering gasoline at the same price as when President Obama took office, $1.84 a gallon.
To be clear we didn’t actually sell the gas, we just team up with a local gas station and pay the difference in price so that the first 150 cars can fill up for $1.84 a gallon. This rollback on the price of gasoline saves the average consumer $28 - $35 depending on where they live. Yet people go to extraordinary measures to save what some of us wouldn’t consider a lot of money.
That reality hit home last Sunday at a gas station in Cincinnati, where a young woman was the 151st car in line. I walked over to explain that we were out of vouchers and we were sorry but she had missed the cut off. As soon as the words were out of my mouth she burst into tears. Desperately she explained that the neighbor had been a little late to watch her kids while she drove miles and waited a long time to buy gas at our promotion price. Through her tears she explained that money was so tight around her little family that this savings were how she was planning to get by for the week. I relented and we filled up her tank.
This exchange and the hundreds like it at similar events in Nevada, Missouri, Iowa and Michigan are a powerful reminder of how careful everyday Americans are with their hard earned dollars. Throughout the country people plan, cut coupons, scrimp and save to put food on the table and gas in the tank. Even a $28 savings is a big deal.
You know who could learn a lesson from that? Our elected leaders in Washington. Examples are almost too numerous to mention, but we all remember the extravagant party thrown by GSA, a department of the federal government. GSA spent over $823,000 taxpayer dollars on a lavish conference in Las Vegas that featured a mind reader, piles of sushi and in-room parties.
Sadly, the GSA confab in Vegas is just one of many abuses of taxpayer money, and not even a particularly large one. No doubt you remember Solyndra, that poster child for big-government boondoggles. Solyndra was given $535 million dollars to build solar panels no one wanted. When the money ran out, Solyndra promptly went bankrupt. Now former Solyndra employees are out of a job, and taxpayers are left on the hook for the bill.
These two examples highlight the disregard in the way that the government uses your tax dollars. They certainly don’t burst into tears at the thought of not being able to save $28. And that is the very problem. Politicians in Washington have forgotten that each dollar was earned. Unless they are held accountable by We the People, there is no incentive to be good stewards of your tax dollars. If something goes over budget, they pull out a seemingly unlimited credit card called the national debt. Then as the national debt climbs, they turn around and demand more taxes from the mother trying to save $28 to fund and endless list of wasteful pet projects.
The problem is very simple, government wastes our money, and it’s not efficient and usually not effective. Those who waited in line to buy gas for $1.84 understood something foundational – that they can spend their own dollars more wisely and efficiently than the federal government.
This understanding is the core of economic freedom that President Obama rails against. The solution to the spending problem is very simple: our government must spend less and do less. The citizens in America should decide what programs they want to pay for and what things should be cut. This simple solution seems so difficult for our leaders to understand. They want government to do everything, for everyone, all the time – but never stop to consider how we pay for it. They seem to forget that that everything costs money - your money.
Restoring our country and growing the economy requires moving it in the direction of economic freedom. That means building down the size of government, reducing the national debt and a holding elected officials accountable for how they spend our tax dollars – even if it’s only $28.