Down memory lane I went.
It happens a lot, when I look back on my former political life. Sometimes it is a pleasant trip, remembering a successful piece of legislation or some humorous encounter with a political ally or enemy. Unfortunately, this memory was not good, but rather, a grim reminder of the pathetic and irresponsible politicians, who have saddled the future generations of America with a mountain of debt.
It came to me, oddly enough, through an April 20th article in The Washington Post entitled, “Even in an Era of Budget Cuts, These Government Programs Won’t Die,” written by David Fahrenthold. I say “oddly enough” because the Post is not usually this on-target when it comes to the big spending and wasteful ways of Washington. The author referred to “line items that won’t die” in the federal budget. He correctly points out that both parties in Congress, and even presidents of both political parties, had singled out these programs for cuts and yet they still dodged the budget ax. Fahrenthold was very specific in documenting $337 million in four programs that survived even though $38 billion in cuts had passed in the 2011 budget agreement.
As I read Mr. Fahrenthold’s account of the millions in spending for storage of cotton bales, for an exchange program between U.S. and Asian journalists and businessmen, for marketing of U.S. oranges in Asia and for the clean-up of abandoned coal mines, I was “time warped” back into the mid 1980’s and 1990’s, when I fought (and usually lost) the fight to eliminate similar line items in a desperate attempt to cut federal spending and get a handle on our debt and deficit. This is an example of the sad and dangerous journey taken by our leaders year after year as the deficits and debt climb into the stratosphere, threatening the survival of our nation.
I was proud to be a part of a small band of rebels who tried and tried to reduce spending on earmarks and entitlements in the House of Representatives in the mid 1980’s. Among the group, were Congressmen Bill Dannemeyer (R-CA), Bob Walker (R-PA), Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Connie Mack (R-FL). Later, in the U.S. Senate in the 1990’s, I worked with Senators Jim Bunning (R-KY), Malcolm Wallop (R-WY), Phil Gramm (R-TX) and a very few other conservatives to try to eliminate the earmarks and to significantly reform entitlements and cut government spending. It did not happen.
One day, very frustrated after offering and losing votes on several amendments to cut spending, Congressman Bob Walker and I actually offered an amendment on the House floor to cut $1 out of a program that cost around $100 million. Our amendment was overwhelmingly defeated by the big spenders of the day! We were accused of being dilatory and wasting members’ time. Truthfully, in the 1980’s and 90’s anyone who tried to cut spending (especially earmarks) was mocked and marginalized and considered a nuisance to the self proclaimed “real power players” who ran the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate. I secretly hope that after I die that I can be reincarnated as a U.S. government program so that I can live forever, socialize with presidents and congressional leaders, and spend as much money as I want!
Fahrenthold mentioned that in recent budgets $42 million had been cut from the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program, $10 million slashed from the National Drug Intelligence Center (which is a facility in John Murtha’s district in Pennsylvania), and even a reduction of half of the funds from the Denali Agency created by former Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. Mr. Fahrenthold then mentions that all of these men had recently died! Maybe the author is on to something. Maybe the only thing that will save us from the immortality of government programs is the mortality of those who fund them!
I have witnessed up close the behavior of the government “porkers” in the House and Senate. Both parties are guilty and the appropriators have no regard for spending controls. It is all about power and intimidation. There is no democracy at work in a conference committee, when House and Senate chairmen decide to add something for their states or districts. I personally witnessed a chairman of one of those committees say to all conferees, “I get this program for my state/district” first, and then we will get on with the conference.” No one dared challenge. Whoever said, “if you saw how laws and sausage were made, you would be sick,” summed up the process as well as it can be done!
The truth is that these powerful and senior members, not so affectionately called the “old bulls” by the rest of the members, must be exposed and stopped. It is time to neuter the old bulls! They are arrogant and self centered and are threatening our future. We are never going to reduce trillions in deep spending cuts and make meaningful entitlement reforms, if we cannot force the big spending power brokers in Congress to cut a few million here and there. It is a small first step, but it shows that we mean business.
Now is the time for the new Congress to display some courage and do the right thing.
Here are three suggestions:
1. Eliminate all earmarks. Every single item should receive an “up or down” vote on the floor and expose by name those individuals who attempt to add them in to the budget. Make whatever rules changes are needed in both the House and Senate to make this happen.
2. Work with the Congressional Budget Office and lay out a budget that reaches balance by some realistic date in the future. Then pass a binding resolution in both the House and Senate that requires you by law to get there. If it fails, or the president does not sign it, then bring it up year after year until new members are elected to pass it. Members should make it an issue in their campaigns. Tell the people the truth as to why we must get our fiscal house in order. The alternative is the ruin of our nation.
3. Once this passes, then have a series of votes on entitlement reform and spending cuts within the framework of the plan selected. Let each vote decide the cuts and reforms. It is okay to disagree on the priorities of cuts or reforms, but you must make them in line with your budget outline.
Now show some spine and do the job we are paying you to do. America is a republic and we are sending you there to balance the budget and pay down the debt, not to spend us into oblivion. Your decisions do not have to be popular with some of us, but they must be right for all of us.