Every Dollar Is Sacred

The Washington Post reports on the big political story from last week:

Regularly intemperate — most recently in his hyperbolic attacks on the Federal Reserve — Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) is on his way to retirement, largely because his Republican colleagues have concluded that the 78-year-old former major league pitcher is a political liability. Mr. Bunning is not going quietly: His latest move was to put a five-day “hold” on a $10 billion bill to retain non-essential government workers and install satellite TV in rural areas. Democrats, who control the Senate, had insisted the measure should be treated as an “emergency” bill exempt from pay-as-you-go rules. Mr. Bunning said “no.” This was spectacularly bad politics — Mr. Bunning is not the spokesman his Republican colleagues prefer, to put it mildly — and so he ultimately relented.

What made Bunning’s lonely stand “spectacularly bad politics?” After all, the government is painfully broke, and in debt up to its eyeballs. Americans are nervous about the dark mass of unsustainable debt lurking in their future, waiting to devour their children. The public sector has been expanding like mad, hiring armies of lavishly compensated government workers, even as the private sector suffers double-digit unemployment. Why would it be politically unwise for Bunning to take a stand against ten billion dollars in further deficit spending, to retain non-essential government employees?

Apologies to the Washington Post, but I’ve done a bit of creative editing to their report. Bunning was actually said to be standing against a bill to extend unemployment benefits. The payoff for government employees and rural satellite TV was bundled into the bill, as explained by Jed Skillman at the American Thinker. These expensive barnacles are never mentioned in contemptuous media reports of the evil pirate captain Filibuster Bunning, and his brutal seizure of the good ship Unemployment Extension… her hold filled with children starved by a heartless free market that cruelly refuses to employ them.

Senator Bunning was not merely refusing to authorize more deficit spending for those unemployment benefits, either. He proposed to pay for these benefits from unspent “stimulus” funds. Hundreds of billions of dollars appropriated for the Obama stimulus plan haven’t been spent yet. It would be quite reasonable to use these funds and comply with the recently enacted PAYGO law, which requires government to pay for new spending as it goes instead of running up the deficit. The story could accurately have been reported as: Democrats break the law to hoard billions in slush fund cash for upcoming elections.

The Bunning saga illustrates one of the greatest obstacles in the path of downsizing the government. Whenever spending cuts are made, statists always insist the very first dollar of reduced spending is being taken from noble programs to benefit the needy, or politically popular initiatives like unemployment benefits. The federal budget has swelled to over three and a half trillion dollars… but when someone objects to another ten billion in deficit spending, the statists tearfully insist the unemployed will be left penniless. Every dollar of that massive budget is sacred, and every cut will have to come from the most essential services. Those “non-essential government workers” are never on the chopping block – as soon as government is told it must cut spending, it starts throwing pink slips at cops, firefighters, and teachers. Even when Washington is sitting on half a trillion dollars of unspent cash, it still insists that unemployment benefits will be the first thing to go, if we don’t agree to saddle our children with another ten billion in debt.

This is a compelling reason to prevent government from absorbing any more of the free market. If the Democrats succeed in nationalizing health care, you can rest assured that every proposed reduction in government spending will be immediately diverted to doctors and hospitals. Socialists will sadly assure us they must be the first victims of any cutbacks, while endless trillions in pork-barrel spending and lavish benefits for unionized government workers remain untouched. Anyone who proposes so much as a modest tax cut will be accused of wanting to switch off life-support machines.

We can also see the folly of proposing modest, incremental steps to fiscal sanity. When you politely suggest this corpulent government could stand to drop a few pounds, it responds by screaming and plunging a set of liposuction needles into its heart. No trust or respect is owed to a Congress that passes a law imposing common-sense restrictions on deficit spending, then immediately declares anyone who insists they obey it as a lunatic. Watching people like Dick Durbin snivel that the latest ten billion in unsustainable debt is an “emergency,” while trillions of tax dollars surge through the halls of Congress behind him, is disgusting. The Democrats promise they’ll get on that fiscal austerity diet tomorrow, but right now we need to shut up and let them scarf down a few emergency doughnuts, and how dare we mention the sea of candy wrappers and popsicle sticks littering the floor around them.

It’s long past time we reject the pretense that every new penny of deficit spending is an emergency, every dollar of the ridiculous federal budget is sacred, and each attempt at reform will have to begin with shutting down vital services. As long as the government persists in its worst excesses, there’s no reason to tolerate boasting about its best features. When it’s wasting trillions, there’s no way it should be allowed to claim it needs a loan for billions. A Congress that knocks aside inconvenient laws, in its lust for power and money, has no business talking about new laws it plans to enforce upon us. A band of thieves mired in corruption scandals has nothing to say to us about responsibilities.

Last week, Jim Bunning asked the architects of the most bloated government in American history if they could find a measly $10 billion in a $3.5 trillion budget to fund an extension of unemployment benefits. They howled in rage and declared they could not. Bunning isn’t the one who should be retiring.

Cross-posted at www.doczero.org.