Monday, November 27, 2006

We're on a road to nowhere

Anyone who has ever heard the Talking Heads song "Road to Nowhere," might have thought of it when reading yesterday's New York Times article that discussed the upcoming shift in power on the Senate Appropriations committee.

The author was quick to point out that little in the way of spending reform should be expected from the Democratic leaders waiting in the wings to take the reigns. Specifically, outgoing Alaskan Senator Senator Ted "Spendthrift" Stevens is being replaced by his good buddy Daniel "show me the money" Inouye. Neither are apologetic about their fiscal lack of discipline; in fact, just the opposite.

It's more than a shame when $5 Billion corporate tax bills morph into $140 Billion dollar "Monstrosities that include billions for fishing tackle boxes, bows and arrow manufacturers, and a host of other special interest tax breaks." If you asked the average American whether we should spend $200 million dollars in Federal money to build a bridge in Alaska so 200 islanders don't have to take a ferry, they'd put down their Shop Rite Brand pasta, set aside their R/C Cola bottles, tuck in their bellies and smack you in the face.

There are so many sad things about pork barrel spending. For one, billions of dollars in tax-payer money gets wasted. Two, most Congressmen do not even officially own up to earmarks they put submit. Third, and saddest of all - is that if all pork barrel spending ceased, Americans would notice and probably be furious. Roads would not be paved, bridges wouldn't be built, office buildings would not be renovated, and expensive new projects that artificially create jobs would not be bankrolled. The government, much like its citizens, spends more than it has.

Our country is addicted to pork. It's a sordid love affair, really. Just like our long-time dependence on oil, MTV, McDonald's and Hollywood. But the problem with pork barrel spending is that it comes from money that our Federal government collects from our own pockets. This money is not highly scrutinized or evenly distributed across the country.

But there may be a solution to bring fiscal sanity within reach of even the least frugal gatekeepers. We can return fiduciary discipline to Washington by following a few simple steps.

Let's use Alaska's "bridge to nowhere" as an example. No reasonable person on the mainland would think for a moment that they should deny these islanders their right to drive a snow plow, pick-up truck or unicycle through desolate forest and over pristine water onto a smooth sheet of fresh tarmac. I certainly do not begrudge them that right. Rather, I would like to make things simpler for these Alaskanislanders.

Why have the Federal government go to all the trouble of collecting the taxes, counting it up, then doling it out among thousands of pork laden bills? Won't this just delay the construction of your bridge? I have an easier way.

First, the federal government should collect fewer taxes from its citizens. This will put more money in people's pockets, and potentially in State coffers if the States should choose to tax their people more. Once drastically fewer dollars flow into the federal government's purse, Congress will have little to no cash to lavish on Congressmen's pet projects. But the States will have more flexibilty to tax and spend more, or not, without fear that their residents are being over-taxed since the Federal government will be taking in far less revenue.

An additional positive, but unintended consequence to this change is that our elected officials can now spend time on issues that they were voted into office to tackle. Issues such as: Welfare reform, Social Security, Health Care, Lobbying reform, Pentagon spending, and generally defending our Constitutional rights.

Now, I don't fool myself for a minute into thinking that this will actually happen; it's far too Utopian, too Jeffersonian an idea to be realistic in today's political climate. Which takes us back to where we began...

Well we know where we're goin
But we dont know where we've been
And we know what we're knowin
But we cant say what we've seen
And we're not little children
And we know what we want
And the future is certain
Give us time to work it out

We're on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin' that ride to nowhere
We'll take that ride

Im feelin okay this mornin
And you know,
Were on the road to paradise
Here we go, here we go
-Talking Heads

"A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor and bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government." - Thomas Jefferson

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