Diary

Breaking Uncle Sam’s Spending Addiction

Uncle Sam is addicted to spending. We’re use to seeing him pointing and saying “I want YOU!” He’s still pointing but now he’s saying “I want your CASH.” He needs a fix. It is little wonder that he is addicted. Washington has developed a culture of spending in which elected officials are worried about getting elected today regardless of the fiscal consequences of tomorrow. Well now it is time to send him to rehab. There have been many attempts at doing so, but detoxing is never fun and Uncle Sam apparently lacks the will to see it through.

Earlier this week, Republicans unveiled their new “YouCut” program, saying it will give voters the chance to tell Capitol Hill what budget-cuts they think are necessary. The program is meant to harness the internet’s power of social media to allow citizens more access to the decisions of their government. In an out of touch Washington it is meant to empower citizens. Each week Republican members of Congress will submit a few proposals to cut some fat out of the federal government. These choices will then be presented to Americans who will be given the chance to vote on which cut they would like to see implemented. Republicans will then use the procedural tools available to the minority party to force a vote on the spending cut. House Whip Eric Cantor, who is putting on this spending “intervention” hopes the method will help.

Democrats, who don’t want to lose their best junkie, have been quick to criticize the program. Alec Gerlach of the Democratic National Committee criticized the program because it “would cut less than one-tenth of 1% of the budget.” Liberal blogger Mark Coatney was quick to pile on saying “Cantor’s ambition seems a little small. Even if you enacted EVERY ONE of these proposals, the savings would be around $6 billion over 5 years.”

These critiques fail to understand the program and reinforce the nickel and diming of the American people. First, each makes a point to highlight how small the cuts are. The average of the first round of proposed cuts is around $800 million dollars. Though only a tiny percentage of the federal government’s budget I don’t think any American is willing to call that pocket change. Lets put it this way – the average household pays around $10,000 in federal taxes each year. If you enacted just one of the YouCut savings – 80,000 households worth of income tax could be saved or put to better use. Still “underwhelmed?” And of course this is only week one of a continuing program. Americans will have the opportunity to vote on cuts each week so the aggregate effect of the cuts will continue to grow.

My main problem with the Democrats argument is that it reveals a flippant attitude toward addressing the culture of spending in Washington. Politicians have become so used to fighting for $1 trillion additions to the federal budget that they ignore the “small” $500 million programs that are purely a waste of resources. This refusal to think small has dampened our ability to dream big.

Small stuff adds up. If we start addressing the thousands of small ticket items that are clogging up our budget and wasting taxpayer resources then we may be able to get back on a path towards fiscal sustainability. A million here, a billion there, and before you know it we’re making a real difference.

Moreover, the program is really about changing the culture of spending into a culture of saving. Rep. Paul Ryan, a Janesville Republican who serves on a new presidential fiscal commission examining major ways to cut the federal deficit, acknowledged that the YouCut program alone won’t balance the budget.

“But it’s a start,” he said. “We’ve got to get the culture in this country focused on containing the cost of government, containing spending. You can’t tackle the big things unless you change the culture.”

Their main argument in favor of YouCut is that it will get the average citizen to think more about reducing spending, and allowing them to let Uncle Sam know that that is what they are thinking about. One definition for culture is “an integrated pattern of human behavior.” In order to integrate a new pattern of spending, preferably of less spending, we have to change the culture, even if it means starting small.

Uncle Sam needs to go to rehab. He’s become addicted to spending and it has left him weak. His enablers in Washington want him to stay hooked. Addiction to spending leads to a lifetime of big government which is exactly what Democrats want. But we must fight to change the culture. To do that we must stop consistently ignoring the thousands of small cuts that need to be made to our budget. With our futures on the line who better to decide than us?

by Brandon Greife and Adam Welsh