The slice man cometh

by nkronos on February 9, 2011

The sheer momentum of growth in the federal government causes anyone familiar with history to believe two things about spending, one of which has already proved false, and the second may be about to too. Regardless of who has been in charge, Republican or Democrat, that momentum may have slowed a bit here and there, but only to re-gather steam.

Rep. Jeff Flake

Rep. Jeff Flake

This inevitable truth has caused many to conclude that the day of financial reckoning so often foretold was somewhat like the biblical day of judgement: worth giving lip service to so as to curtail even worse profligacy, but never really going to earn us a trip to the lake of fire

In any case, no one would ever rein in spending because that would just be politically unthinkable.

The first prophecy has proved false as America’s fiscal recklessness has since 2008 begun to punish her across the table. Not only are we losing world stature, soft power, independence, the ability to project military might, and our standard of living to the corrosive influence of debt, we are also losing our own self-respect and belief in the American system as the best there is. Columnists like Tom Friedman write openly of the apparent superiority of the totalitarian Chinese way of doing things. Likewise, internationally the urge to imitate the United States has fallen out of favor with China and Germany held up as better models of how to run a railroad.

Even so and despite polls showing widespread support for cutting government spending, reducing the deficit, curtailing the portfolio of government, and cutting the sweet deal enjoyed by civil servants, timid politicians seemed not to get the message. The Tea Party and GOP tsunami in midterm races didn’t appear to convince anyone in Washington the times they were a-changin’ either, as President Obama spoke of a shiny new high speed train system (cost: low-balled at $50 billion) and GOP leaders in the new Congress proposed cuts of only $75 billion or so to the budget–a budget 200 times that much in the red and one in which more than 40 cents of every dollar is borrowed. We are running into hock at a rate exceeded only by the cost of fighting WWII.

What are we getting for it? Mostly consumption rather than investment, resulting in zero chance receipts will expand sufficiently to cover expenditures. In fact, tax receipts this year are expected to be the lowest since 1950.

Today, however, some in Congress bucked the leadership and insisted on more cuts–at least to the level promised during the campaign. To be sure, $100 billion is still only a dent, but it demonstrates that if politics is the art of the possible, the fiscal realities of 2011 are making the unthinkable in politics no longer impossible.

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