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We're Still Not Cutting: Congress Refuses to Face the Fiscal Crisis

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Location: Washington, DC

By Jim DeMint

Despite bipartisan promises to cut spending after the 2010 elections, Washington politicians are still voting to make the government even bigger and more expensive than ever.

Don't believe me?

Even though the federal government is nearly $15 trillion in debt, it's spending at record-high levels. Federal spending has gone up 5 percent in the first nine months of this year alone.

Just last week, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate passed three new spending bills to increase 2012 funding above 2011 funding levels. The bills will increase spending for the Department of Agriculture by $6.4 billion; for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development by more than $2 billion; and for the Commerce, Justice, and State departments by more than $694 million.

This isn't austerity. It's gluttony.

All the talk of cutting spending after the 2010 elections has been just that: talk. The supposedly game-changing events of the past eleven months haven't changed much at all.

In the spring fight to avert a government shutdown, Republicans promised $100 billion in real cuts but then compromised for $38.5 billion in future savings. In reality, the Congressional Budget Office found the deal still resulted in an increase of more than $170 billion in federal spending from 2010 to 2011. The "largest spending cut in history" ended up being a spending increase.

Americans were then told the real spending cuts would come during the summer fight over the decision to raise the nation's debt ceiling. Conservatives pushed the Cut, Cap, and Balance plan to balance the budget within ten years in exchange for increasing the legal borrowing limit. Instead of doing that, however, Democratic and Republican leadership made a compromise deal to allow President Obama to increase our national debt to nearly $17 trillion, conditioned only on the creation of a supercommittee that would produce debt-reduction recommendations by the end of the year.

But the committee isn't really trying to cut spending. It seeks only to spend the country into bankruptcy a little slower. Rather than letting the country rack up $23.4 trillion of debt by 2021, the supercommittee hopes to keep it to $21.3 trillion. It's the difference between speeding off a cliff at 91 miles per hour versus 100 miles per hour.

One would think that, in the sub-AAA-rated America that's moving down a path dangerously similar to the one Greece is on, members of this supercommittee would be eagerly rooting out waste throughout our behemoth government. Not so. Reports indicate that the committee, which works in secret, has spent months debating how high they should raise taxes to lower the deficit.

While everyone is waiting for the supercommittee to unveil its grand plan, Congress continues to spend with abandon. Even modest proposals to make small cuts are rejected with overwhelming, bipartisan force.

Oklahoma Republican senator Tom Coburn offered an amendment last week to reduce funding for the Rural Development Agency (RDA) by $1 billion. A 2007 Washington Post investigation of the agency stated, "More than three decades after the program was created, USDA officials still don't know whether it works." The Congressional Research Service has found there are "more than 88 programs administered by 16 different federal agencies to target rural economic development." In recent years the RDA has used taxpayer money to make profligate loans to casinos, beach resorts, and water parks. Still, 85 Senators, consisting of every Democrat and many Republicans, opposed the cut to this wasteful spending. Only 13 senators, all Republicans, supported Coburn's amendment.

If the Senate can't bring itself to trim $1 billion from a duplicative program, how can it ever be expected to cut the trillions needed to balance the budget?

This isn't some isolated example of the Senate's misguided ways. Even though easy credit fueled the housing bubble and subsequent bust, eight Republicans recently joined 52 Democrats to pass an amendment sponsored by New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez to raise the maximum size of federally subsidized loans to $729,750, pushing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to back mortgages far above average home prices. It's as if 60 U.S. senators learned nothing from the market crash and have no idea Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are in constant need of bailouts from the Treasury Department.

Congress proves itself incapable, on a near daily basis, of making the tough decisions necessary to spare the country from fiscal disaster. Even the spirited minority of conservatives that now exists in Washington is not powerful enough to overcome the overwhelming, bipartisan majority of big spenders who continue to ignore the financial crisis the country faces.

That's why a balanced-budget amendment remains the only answer to our country's deep budgetary problems. Until members of Congress are bound, by law, to balance the budget by cutting spending instead of hiking taxes, they never will.

Certainly, some Republicans have gotten the message, but anyone who watches what Congress is doing now can see that not nearly enough have. The 2010 election was a big step in the right direction. Hopefully, Americans will finish the job in 2012.


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