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The unwritten Sousa march – "Bankruptcy Forever"

By Marion Edwyn Harrison
web posted June 27, 2005

The "March King" John Philip Sousa composed more than one hundred marches, in varying degrees of serious motif, among the most popular "Semper Fidelis" (1888), The Washington Post March" (1889), "The Thunderer" (1889), "The Liberty Bell" (1893), "Manhattan Beach March" (1893), "King Cotton" (1895), "The Stars and Stripes Forever" (1896), "El Capitan" (1896), "Hands Across the Sea" (1899), "Fairest of the Fair" ( 1908), "U. S. Field Artillery" (1917), "The Gallant Seventh" (1922), "The Black Horse Troop" (1924), "Daughters of Texas" (1929). What a march he might have composed to the drumbeat of an ever escalating, uncontrolled and seemingly uncontrollable national debt! View the figures below and exhaust your imagination!

Where have you gone John Philip Sousa? A nation turns its poorer eyes to you
Where have you gone John Philip Sousa? A nation turns its poorer eyes to you

Were a lyricist to pen words to this imaginary "Bankruptcy Forever" March the lyricist could combine the serious with the absurd. Alas, absurdity often plays well in Congress.

Because there is no effective germaneness requirement in the Senate Rules, human imagination cannot envision the projects upon which Congress appropriate taxpayers' money.

How about $1.5 million for a bus stop in Anchorage? ("The Streetcar Named Desire" in New Orleans evidently struck out but "The Bus Stop Named Profligate" made it.) Or $1 million toward the National Flag Museum in Pittsburgh? ("National" Flag in Pittsburgh?) Or $1 million for a DNA study of bears in Montana? (Can you "bear" it?) Or $3.5 million to restore the Vulcan Monument in Birmingham? (The Roman God of Fire?) Or, mere child's-play money, only $350,000.00 to restore the U. S. House of Representatives Beauty Salon? (An unanticipated cost of ladies in Congress?) Or, cheaper yet, only $90,000.00 for the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth? (Who are these "National" cows and girls and cowgirls in Fort Worth?)

More seriously, Heritage Foundation Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies scholar Brian M. Riedl calculates Congressional largesse now adds annually to $22,039 per American household. (Has your family collected yet?)

Perhaps a further compounding of the trouble is that billions are "lost" or at least according to normal accounting practice are unaccounted for. The Riedl study estimates about $25 billion expended in the Fiscal Year 2003 (concluding October 1, 2003) has disappeared. It reports the Department of Defense ("DOD") as having failed to utilize, or to seek refund of the cost of, some 270,000 commercial air tickets DOD purchased. Then there are hoards of - dare we say, small – wastes out of various federal agencies, adding in the aggregate only to mere hundreds of millions of dollars.

Not surprisingly, States with small populations and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairmen are the major banditti. If the other forty-eight States proportionately collected as many federal tax dollars as Alaska and West Virginia the Bankruptcy Forever March would be played to a tempo so frenetic as heretofore to have been unknown and unimaginable.

There may be some chance to avoid listening to the deadly din of the Bankruptcy Forever March.

In 2003 Free Congress Foundation essentially originated the plan for a Presidentially appointed commission to be created, similar to that which reviews military base operations in light of possible closure recommendations – the Base Realignment and Closure Commission ("BRAC)." The legislation would create a Commission on Accountability and Review of Federal Agencies ("CARFA"). CARFA, like BRAC, would provide that Congress must vote to reject a recommendation to delete – or, in bureaucratese, "defund" – a program or project; otherwise, the program or project would be terminated. Senator Sam Brownback and Representative Todd Tiehart, both Kansans, with co-sponsors, have introduced the legislation. Of course, it has gone nowhere but the seed of reality has been sown. With a combination of fiscal responsibility and political courage the Administration and Congress someday may move it along.

Free Congress Foundation also last year proposed three specific proposals: (1) A one-time business-type audit of federal agencies; (2) A permanent board of volunteer businessmen to search out and publicly identify waste, fraud and abuse; (3) Independent outside auditors of federal agencies. (Two more detailed Free Congress Foundation monographs are available on the Website or upon request: Paul M. Weyrich, "Runaway Federal Spending: A Practical Solution" (October, 2003) and "Controlling Federal Spending: Three Modest Proposals" (November, 2004).

The Bankruptcy Forever March would be shrill, unending, devastating. We don't need that kind of music. Stay tuned.

Marion Edwyn Harrison, Esq., is President of, and Counsel to, the Free Congress Foundation.

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