It struck me today while reading the Washington Post print edition that our Congress may be even more under-handed than I thought. I doubt that it was the editors’ intent to do so, but in just the “A” section of the paper there were numerous articles, editorials and opinion pieces that when put together show just how self-centered and narrow-minded some members of Congress can be. While arguing for smaller government, reduced spending, and the elimination or reduction of various government agencies, the omnibus spending bill that just passed was full of what used to be called “pork”. Since the current rules of the House and Senate eliminate anything that resembles good old-fashioned bring-home-the-bacon pork barrel spending, they are now called “add-ons” or “specialized programs” or prohibitions for eliminating programs that benefit specific Congressional districts.
Here is a short list of some of these dubious exploits outlined in today’s paper. It is hardly exhaustive and does not include everything a casual look at the news will reveal.
The 605.7 billion dollar Department of Defense (DOD) budget (over half of the total 1.1 trillion dollar total budget) is riddled with unwanted and unnecessary spending mandated by Congress, as highlighted by Walter Pincus in his piece in today’s paper. The money comes by shifting money from the “base” DOD budget to the Operational Contingency Operations (OCO) fund. The OCO fund is outside the regular budget and is not part of the agreement. It is intended to be used to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but through accounting sleight of hand moving funds around, billions of dollars become available for “special projects” while being able to trumpet the savings to the base budget which does not directly reflect all of these expenditures. Much of that spending is unwanted, unrequested and only minimally related to achieving the military’s mission or desired spending levels.
In an article about the United State Postal Service (USPS) which has come under withering criticism from the Congress for its increasing debt, we find that the USPS is trying to sell off surplus post offices but is being prohibited from doing so by House members until a study by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) is completed. Remember that the USPS tried to change delivery days to Monday through Friday — dropping Saturday delivery to save money — and was prohibited from doing so by the Congress.
As explained on the editorial page, Congress is considering a “tax extenders bill” to continue specific tax exemptions or tax breaks for special interests for everything from Puerto Rican rum to auto race tracks. Historically, there are no increased revenue sources nor spending off-sets from other parts of the budget to pay for these special exemptions. Yet, the proposed extension of added unemployment benefits is held up by those that insist it cannot be passed without corresponding reductions to “pay for it” in other areas.
Despite the chemical spill in West Virginia that contaminated the water supply for hundreds of thousands for over a week, many in Congress still want to eliminate or severely inhibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
I could go on. This was only in a few pages of one paper today. Puhleeze! Spare me! Enough!
This is the same Congress that has members that want to do away with or at least limit unemployment benefits, significantly reduce SNAP (food stamps), reduce the Cost of Living (COLA) payments to veterans, and on and on.
By focusing on the deficit and deficit reduction, some members have put their energy on the wrong issue. While there is little criticism of trying to get spending under control, the real issue is where the money is spent and how effective it is in achieving the intended result. Focusing only on dollar amounts and screaming about debt limits does little to enhance the effectiveness of government in achieving those things that can only be done on the scale needed to get at root problems. And it does not help their credibility as they continue to add pork barrel spending while the demagoguery continues about too much spending.
I understand that some of the spending outlined above is about the give and take of doing business in our government following many, many years of doing business in that way. Sometimes these “add-ons” grease the wheels of progress towards larger issues. I get that.
My problem is the callous deceit and phony-baloney lecturing about getting spending under control by focusing on spending on social issues while at the same time inflating spending in order to satisfy special interests that support their re-election.
While this is nothing new, I suppose, I have just grown tired of all of the posturing and self-righteousness that has no actual meaning. Governing our country is a messy business and politics are a necessary part of it. What I miss is a clear vision for the country and demonstrable leadership that extends beyond parochial interests or self-promotion.
One cannot be a “leader” in name only. It must be demonstrated and focused towards a definable goal that contributes to society.
Where are the leaders?