Tea Party Extremists’ Fiscal Obduracy

Many Republicans now reject the debt ceiling-raising plan concocted recently by their House leaders. The Republican leadership senses this. There are two struggles going on in American regarding our federal spending habits. One is between Republicans and Democrats and the other is between Republicans who can’t quite wean themselves from the infinite credit card vision of government and the forces embodied by the Tea Party (not a party, of course but an unorganized grass-root movement). I belong to the latter, I want to clarify our already clear position.

I don’t want to rein in federal spending, I want to shrink it. What this means is that where the federal government spent $10 last year, I want it to spend $9.5 next year and $9, the year after. That’s in real dollars. I want a set up that insures that this will happen with a high degree of certainty. I don’t know how to achieve this high level of certainty. Somebody in Congress, does, I am sure. That’s why they get the big bucks. House Majority Leader Boehner’s proposal of around July 25th 2011 does not do this.

The kind to shrinkage I describe above is not much to ask for. I do it all the time. Most American households have done it. It’s just a matter of willpower. Now, when we are back to, say, 1995 levels of federal spending I may be ready to talk again about raising spending.

What underlies the difference between the House Majority Leader and many traditional Republican Reps on the one hand, and me on the other, what explains my obduracy is this: They think that spending too much is only a bad habit economically. I think the same but it’s the smaller part of the issue. I am also convinced that the federal government is too large relative to American civil society. If you showed me a level of federal spending that I thought was economically sustainable, if I agreed, I might still want to reduce federal spending. That’s because I want to shrink the federal government, not simply improve its functioning. How more clear can we get?

Incidentally, there has been a lot of dispirited comment on the Left about the irrationality of Teas Party types’, many of them far from rich, refusal to consider tax increases on the very rich. It’s true that there are two ways to reduce the federal debt, one of which is to obtain more federal revenue. Personally, I am not against raising all taxes. I am just against increasing the burden on those who are most likely to create jobs. Instead, I propose we create a modest tax burden on the 46%+ of Americans who now pay no federal income tax at all. The current situation is politically unhealthy. It creates a caste that will never contribute anything to the federal government throughout its lifetime. It creates the impression that government is free, that it costs nothing. This has got to be unhealthy. Incidentally, and surprisingly, that’s where the money is, not with the few rich but with the many that earn modest incomes.

About jacquesdelacroix

I am a sociologist, a short-story writer, and a blogger (Facts Matter and Notes On Liberty) in Santa Cruz, California.
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9 Responses to Tea Party Extremists’ Fiscal Obduracy

  1. Martin Anding says:

    Shrinking Federal spending is a noble idea. A lot of folks are for it. The problem comes when we try to decide what EXACTLY to spend less on. Every bit of spending is someone’s or some group’s income. And I don’t see anyone standing up and volunteering to take the financial hit. The fact that the government spends so much has made every citizen a member of some group that benefits from the spending. And of course politicians get their campaign funds and votes by passing out tax indulgences or just straight cash. None of this is new. George Bernard Shaw said “A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul”. I’m afraid the only way out is some sort of crack-up.
    I the meanwhile do have any suggestions about what to cut?

  2. Kay B. Day says:

    Excellent analysis, Jacques.
    Martin, I’ve studied reports and data from a number of government agencies. The first cut should be in UN funding–no one even knows exactly how much we give (U.S. is biggest donor) because funding goes out through so many different channels. President Obama has increased UN funding three times; he should return the funding to previous levels and reduce it further by 5 percent.

    Every non-vital government program can be reduced by 5 percent across the board; attrition should be applied as long time employees leave because federal benefits are a significant part of our expense and reducing the roster (rather than increasing it sizably as Obama has done) will also reduce those benefits payments in future.

    We should also begin to sunset the Dept. of Education whose budget is hundreds of millions of dollars. We should set aside a percentage of those funds and give them directly to the states. An education council can be established at modest cost

  3. Kay B. Day says:

    Having a few hinks trying to type here. Anyway, the funds from DoE to the states should be mandated as for use in classrooms and on teacher pay.

    Any perpetual earmarks should be examined and those perpetuals should be clipped. One example: then-senator Obama’s earmarks for a deceased Democrat senator’s think tank–$1 million a year perpetuating.

    There are myriad places the federal government can cut. I could fill a book. These are just a few off the top of my head.

  4. David says:

    JD,

    I don’t think that someone in Washington knows how to do this. If someone did, I suspect they would’ve done it by now. The simple fact is that most everything that could be reasonably cut is a tiny percentage compared to the largest albatrosses that are hanging on the neck of the federal government, namely the entitlement programs that many rely on. No one wants to cut those programs, cause they won’t be re-elected. They’ll be hung, drawn and quartered by their constituents and opponents. Because reform = cut for many of these people. People aren’t prone to critical thinking, and anyone trying to unseat an incumbent will stoke the fears that the incumbent is trying to throw granny off a cliff. Sometimes more literally than others. Too many people have become dependent on government in an extremely substantive way. And trying to change that is like trying to control the weather. Not an easy task. To be honest, I don’t see a way out of this mess without a substantial amount of pain, of one kind or another. It’s just a matter of when we feel pain and how much of it there will be. Do I think that our country is going to collapse? No, but it’s gonna feel like one hell of a suckerpunch when we can’t play budget gimmicks, tax people more or borrow more. The first and third are nearing an end. The second can still be done, if only because the government can still take other peoples money. The reason I say the first is almost done is because politicians can’t just overlook the details anymore. They have to be more specific with every passing year with regard to their spending and budgets. (We spend most of the year in the State Legislature of California debating the budget, if it ever gets passed. Though all the bills get paid in the mean time…ironic, no?) The reason I say the third is nearing an end is because the rate of borrowing is exceeding the speed with which the Congress can bitch among itself to get a deal passed. Getting Congress to agree to something takes time. And the rate of the borrowing is beginning to exceed the ability of Congress to make space in the national credit card. It doesn’t help that federal spending is taking up a larger percentage of GDP either. Congress can’t afford to spend too much time talking about raising it’s credit limit, cause it still has to pass a budget. Or at least a continuing resolution.

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      David: I don’t know why you are so pessimistic. People cut their own benefits all the time. It just had to be done slowly and more or less fairly. I am on Social Security and on Medicare. I would take a 5% cut in both tomorrow if I thought there was a fair chance it was taking the country in the right direction. (That’s much less than a 100% chance.) Reduction of the federal government’s share of national income was done fairly dramatically after WWII and again after the Korean War. It can be done.

      • David says:

        I think I’m pessimistic for a couple of reasons: 1) I’ve seen way too much of the dark, stupid, selfish, idiotic side of humanity, in relation to the converse. 2) I’ve just been watching the trend of government continue to enlarge over time. I don’t doubt that the federal government has cut back, yet here we are again. This time, war isn’t the primary culprit. Certainly war has contributed plenty to this round, but insane deficit spending on non-war items has brought this issue to the forefront. (i.e. tarp, stimulus 1.0, QE1, QE2, et al.)

  5. Terry Amburgey says:

    Here’s a proposal I saw today, let me know what you think Jacques…đŸ™‚

    “Sovereign governments such as the United States can print new money. However, there’s a statutory limit to the amount of paper currency that can be in circulation at any one time.
    Ironically, there’s no similar limit on the amount of coinage. A little-known statute gives the secretary of the Treasury the authority to issue platinum coins in any denomination. So some commentators have suggested that the Treasury create two $1 trillion coins, deposit them in its account in the Federal Reserve and write checks on the proceeds.”

  6. Bruce says:

    As soon as the government passed federal withholding of income they had their hooks in us. They further sealed our fate with Social Security (Ponzi scheme), Medicare, Medicaid, food Stamps, welfare, unemployment compensation, Head Start, Obamacare and all the other dependency programs. The casualties of these programs were the help programs that existed before. If you fell on hard times you went to your family, church, or community for assistance. They helped you get back on your feet. Now we don’t need any of these things, we have the government. You don’t even have to ask for a handout, the government finds you and the money flows automatically and without any of the shame associated with asking people you know for help. There are generations of Americans who have known nothing else. There is no stigma associated with being a loafer. Your family would tell you to get a job, your church might tell you to volunteer your time until you found a job, the community might tell you they’re not going to continue to give you money if you spend it on drugs and alcohol. The government does not judge you, in fact, they reward bad behavior. A woman who has a child out of wedlock at 13 knows that if she has 4 kids by the time she’s 20 that the check will be sweeter. Dependency comes at a cost. The family, church and community are less important when Uncle Sugar slides the checks to you. The increase in the number of Blacks born out of wedlock since the advent of government welfare programs tells the story. It is a self perpetuating disaster for families caught in the web of government help programs. They vote, that the fact that matters, and we have never had so many people dependent on Uncle Sam. It’s a culture of dependency and an entitlement mentality.
    If people who don’t pay federal taxes were not allowed to vote how quickly would things change? Why don’t you see politicians advocating for prisoneers/felons rights?Our founding documents do not guarantee voting rights in federal elections, that’s a state thing. Now it’s seen as an entitlement. I work for a Fortune 250 company. If you don’t hold any shares in my company you don’t get to vote on our board of directors. The board decides, among other things, how we spend our money. Why should people with no skin in the game decide how the money we send to the government is spent? I will add that when times got lean a couple of years ago we went through a 20% downsizing. The government bureaucracy continues to grow by leaps and bounds, regardless of which party is in power. Not sure we can put the cat back in the bag either. Even a major third party factor in 2012 will not change things. A conservative third party will not win, it will only guarantee a Democrat victory. History tell us it’s so. (Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose, and Ross Perot).
    Boehner will give Obama what he wants, the brat will refuse it, the media will paint the GOP as being heartless monsters who want grandma eating cat food and not getting her medication. Obama will twist arms and finally get what he wants because he’s entitled, not because he’s fought for and earned anything. That’s the life of the man-child in a nutshell.
    I’m hopeful that there’s still time to reverse the damage Obama has done, this is still the greatest country in the world and we can overcome.

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      Well put, Bruce. I have one question though: You refer to the increase in the number of blacks unemployed since government programs. I suppose you mean “percentage.” I wonder if you have any supporting source or if this is an internet urban legend. Sorry for asking but it’s important that conservatives be stricter about facts than the over-imaginative other side .

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