Tag Archives: government spending

Score One for Fiorina: A Clarion Call to Budgeting Sanity

English: A graph of the US GDP compared with F...
A graph of the US GDP compared with Federal budget outlay. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In every presidential election cycle, candidates find themselves called upon to present plans for balancing the federal budget. And, for the most part, their plans call for doing so — in the sweet bye and bye. Never next year, seldom even next decade. The plan is for the current crop of politicians to kick the can down the road some  more, leaving it to future Congresses and administrations to exercise the fiscal restraint that these politicians  won’t.

Not Carly Fiorina. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe (October 7), Fiorina claimed she would submit a balanced budget to Congress in her first term.

Will she? Probably not, if for no other reason than that she wants to increase, not decrease, spending on the single largest sector of the budget, “defense,” so that she can continue the two previous administrations’ program of idiotic military adventurism around the globe.

But, be that as it may, when she explained how she proposed to attack the budget, she put her finger on one of the biggest bad habits of government spenders and promised to fix it. The problem is something called “baseline budgeting.” She proposes to replace it with “zero-based budgeting.” A quick primer:

Under baseline budgeting, the federal government assumes that each department will spend as much as it spent last year, with an automatic upward adjustment reflecting the inflation rate and US population growth. That’s on rails. The only things that have to be justified in the departments’ budget requests are changes upward or downward from that automatic amount — and how often do you think a bureaucrat requests LESS money?

Under zero-based budgeting, it’s assumed that every last dime requested has to be justified from the ground up. Just because the department spent $100 million on chips, dip and  party favors last year, it doesn’t automatically get $102 million for that this year, with the department only having to justify an extra $10 million to buy ponies for all the deputy secretaries (with THAT $10 million forming part of NEXT year’s “baseline”).

The political class, predictably, went ballistic. By the time Fiorina left the set, budget “experts” were loudly reminding us that zero-based budgeting can never work. Why? Well, because the government is just so big and complex that we can’t can’t expect its swarms of bureaucrats to spend time explaining their demands.

The only way to balance the budget, the “experts” say, is to keep automatically forking over more money every year and trust that spending will eventually magically go down on its own. Someday.

Ultimately, balancing a budget is simple: Spend less than you bring in. “Experts” who pretend that zero-based budgeting is out of bounds are the problem, not the solution.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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Welcome to Shutdown Theater, 2015 Edition

The western front of the United States Capitol...
The western front of the United States Capitol. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Well, here we go again. Sample annual headline: “Republicans Threaten Government Shutdown.” This year’s excuse: A feud over whether or not to continue writing an annual $500 million corporate welfare check to Planned Parenthood.

With bated breath, the mainstream media informs us that the usual suspects on Capitol Hill are “working feverishly” to avoid the “shutdown.” If they don’t work out a deal, the media will squeeze a few more days’ or weeks’ worth of purple prose out of this fake calamity.

Yes, fake.

There’s not going to be any “government shutdown.” There’s never been one, nor is one likely in the future. Or at least not until the US government as we know it “shuts down” for good (yes, that will happen someday — nothing lasts forever).

Nor are these fake “shutdowns” anything close to calamities. At worst they’re mild inconveniences, and then only because Americans have acquiesced in government doing far too many things for far too long.

When we hear that the government has, or is about to, “shut down,” there’s always a curious follow-on clause: “Except for essential services.”

You’d be surprised at the variety of seemingly non-essential services the US government considers “essential.” The list is too long for this column, so I’ll just throw out one example: TSA agents will continue to feel up air travelers, even though letting not-quite-qualified wannabe cops routinely sexually assault people has, on the evidence, never prevented so much as a single terror attack.

But here are two more important questions than what’s “essential” or “nor essential”:

First, if something is not “essential” — a synonym for “necessary” or “indispensable” — why is the possibility that the government will stop doing it for a little while always portrayed in the mainstream media, as an impending disaster of epic proportions?

Secondly, if something is not “essential,”  why is the government doing it in the first place? Especially when that government is $18.5 trillion dollars in debt, runs annual spending deficits in the neighborhood of half a trillion dollars each year, and faces future unfunded liabilities which may be in excess of $200 trillion?

It seems to me that the impending fake “shutdown” should be greeted not with angst but with anticipation. Or, at worst, with apathy.

It’s not the end of the world. It’s not even the end of an era. It’s the finale of a bad sitcom’s bad season.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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More Sequestration: The Best Bad Thing, For Now

English: CBO Long-Term Public Debt Scenarios
English: CBO Long-Term Public [sic] Debt Scenarios (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

If American politicians lived in the real world, US president Barack Obama would propose and Congress would pass a balanced budget for the federal government.

But American politicians don’t live in the real world. Since World War II they’ve inhabited a utopian fantasy in which the federal government has continuously spent more money than it has brought in, on the promise that that debt will eventually be paid off.

Someday.

By someone.

So we’ve once again reached the periodic moment of untruth, with a September 30th deadline for Congress to decide between three alternatives:

Obama’s completely insane budget proposal (which increases spending across the board on both the military and civilian sides of government); or

One of several equally crazy Republican budget proposals (which would likely increase military spending and make some cosmetic cuts to civilian spending); or

Another fake “government shutdown,” accompanied by automatic “sequestration” entailing trivial cuts in both areas.

Under each of these alternatives, the federal government will run a deficit (in English, it will kite a check and overdraw its accounts), adding half a trillion dollars or so to the federal government’s debt (euphemistically referred to as the “national debt” or “public debt” — the politicians want to keep you believing that you’re responsible for their fiscal irresponsibility, and their creditors believing that you’ll cough up someday).

The best choice — in fact, the only reasonable choice — would be for the president and Congress to bite the bullet and balance the budget. That is, make a reasonable estimate of revenues and craft a budget that appropriates and spends less than that estimate.

But, like I said, reasonable is off the table. Neither the president nor Congress is willing to balance the budget this year, or to commit to doing so for any year in the near future. So it looks sequestration is the best we can hope for right now.

How about the next crop of politicians?

American voters will elect a new president, replace (or re-elect) the entire House of Representatives, and replace (or re-elect) 1/3 of the US Senate next year, to take power in January of 2017.

Many of the campaigns are already under way, and the presidential candidates are already debating each other in public.

Why not hold their feet to the fire, and let them know that any candidate who proposes to continue deficit spending will not receive your vote?

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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