Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"Funding" and "Caring" are not the same thing

Yesterday, the House passed an aid package for Hurricane Sandy, totaling some $50.5 billion dollars. And in that regard, there are some things that are not in doubt:
  • Hurricane Sandy caused extensive--and near-catastrophic in some places--damage, to private and public property. 
  • The States and the Federal Government are responsible for repairing all of the damage to public property and public infrastructure. 
  • It is entirely appropriate and fair for States and the Fed to help citizens as well, with money, vital goods, and services.
Really, I haven't heard anyone dispute the above points. But what I have heard are claims that any supposed delay from Congress in passing legislation is indicative of a lack of caring on the part of those who were holding things up (i.e. Boehner and the Republicans). What I have heard are claims that anyone who brings up the issue of paying for this package doesn't care about people, doesn't care about how they are suffering.

And this kind of response is all too common, whenever someone--anyone--questions money spent on any sort of entitlement program or other government-funded handout, disaster or no disaster.

"We need to reform Welfare."

"You don't care about people."

"Extending unemployment benefits indefinitely is not a good idea."

"People are suffering and you don't care."

And so on. The mindset of the critics here is simple: questioning the funding of a given program or initiative--either with regard to the funding itself, or even just the amount of funding--is equivalent to not caring about other people. It marks one as a heartless bastard. And a good portion of the population is easily moved to agreement with such characterizations, because they are easy to make and play well. Those who make them get to mount a moral high horse with relative ease.

Why? Because the funding--the money--they are championing is not coming directly out of their own pockets or those of anyone else. It's coming from the government, which of course always has money to spend. It's a pitifully easy--and disingenuous--position to take, which I guess explains why so many people are quick to take it.

But sometimes, reality has to set in. There need to be some adults in the room. When the aid package for Sandy was considered in the House, Representative Mick Mulvaney proposed an amendment for the package that would require some spending cuts to offset some of the cost of the package. As he said:
It's [the aid package] so important to me that I think we should pay for it. The time has come and gone in this nation when we can walk in here one day and spend $9 billion and $17 billion and $60 billion and not think about who's going to pay for it.
He defended his position on CNN yesterday morning, over the objections of Soledad O'Brien, who pointed out how no such cuts were part of various aid packages in the past. But as Mulvaney rightly noted, times have changed. It's no longer 1989 (Hurricane Hugo), or even 2005 (Hurricane Katrina). In 1989, the national debt was $2.9 trillion. In 2005, it was $7.9 trillion. Now, it's $16.2 trillion.

One could say "what's another $60 billion, then?" But that's precisely the point Mulvaney was making. Doing that is what got us to a near-unmanageable debt, what led us to one fiscal crisis in government after another.

So yes, the government needs to help when disaster strikes. And yes, what needs to be spent should be spent, but that doesn't mean we should ignore what spending that money means, that we should table discussions about how to pay for such things into the distant future. Congress is supposed to be comprised of adults, people who should be capable of doing more than one thing at a time. And really, there has been ample time to structure this relief package, but the truth is that far too many people in Congress--and the Administration--really aren't adults in this sense. They're more interested in PR. And the best PR is had by throwing money around and ridiculing anyone who questions such actions. labeling them as "uncaring" or "cold-hearted."

And note what this $60 billion means in context with the bill to avert the "fiscal cliff." That legislation included new revenues--via punitive taxation--that will amount to around $60 billion at best for this fiscal year. And it including $30 billion is spending via the extension of unemployment benefits. With the passage of just these two bills in the first month of 2013, the Federal Government has spent $90 billion and (hopefully) increased revenues by $60 billion. That's a rate of 150%, spending to revenue. It's an automatic increase of the national debt.

But anyone concerned about that doesn't care about people. Right.

Cheers, all.

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