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Where are the fiscal conservatives?

By Jill S. Farrell
web posted November 24, 2003

Federal discretionary spending is up 12.5 per cent? I had to shake my head and clean my glasses when I saw that one. The front page of a recent edition of the Washington Post (no enemy to government spending) said that we have just witnessed the government grow by over 27 per cent in the last two years.

What in the world is going on? Who is in charge? Where are the Republicans? Since they are now a separate group…where are the fiscal conservatives? Where is the 4 per cent growth cap promised to us in the not-too-distant past? Granted, September 11th pointed out our need to reinvest in our military, but I am quite confident that there is not a lot of restraint or discretion exercised in the "discretionary spending."

When thinking of Federal spending, I am driven to use words like "binge", "bender" and possibly "orgy." There should be a fourth official term to describe Federal spending. We already have non-discretionary entitlement spending, "one-time" emergency spending and good old discretionary spending. How about adding "necessary" spending and let's see how much goes on that list.

The blue whale: That's a whole lot of spending going on...
The blue whale: That's a whole lot of spending going on...

Maybe it's because I was raised in a family who washes and reuses zip-lock bags and aluminum foil, but I cannot see how abusing the public funds can be a good idea. For some of us it takes a little practice to get used to the concept of "billion." Either that or we've simply become numb to the word and no longer try to envision how large a number that actually is. One billion is one thousand million…it has nine zeros and looks like this 1,000,000,000 or 109. If you received $1,000 a day, seven days a week, how long would it take you to collect $1 billion? 2,738 years. If that didn't help, try credit cards. A billion credit cards equals 1,562 hippopotamuses or 52 blue whales. A billion credit cards laid end-to-end would reach 2.2 times around the earth.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates total discretionary spending at $826 billion. They will release official spending numbers in January.

These are your tax dollars. Congress cannot spend anything unless they have taken your money in the form of taxes and fees (or run up the national credit card) to do so. The Federal Government is funding projects and programs ranging from the inane to the truly bizarre: $2 million for a DNA study of grizzly bears in the Northern Rockies; $90,000 for the National Cowgirl Museum; $4 million for the International Fertilizer Development Center or the nearly $3 million for the Wapka Sica Reconciliation Center.

The Brownback-Tiahrt bill is one good plan for encouraging some real fiscal responsibility. Based On the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) model, and titled the Commission on the Accountability and Review of Federal Agencies Act (CARFA), two bills S. 837, and H.R.3213, will establish a commission to review federal agencies and programs. The CARFA commission will then make recommendations to eliminate or realign "duplicative, wasteful, or outdated functions."

CARFA will force Congress to vote up-or-down on a list of recommendations in their entirety. This will allow real reform to emerge, and the deficit and debt problems to be brought under control. S. 837 and H.R.3213 offer Congress and the Administration a viable, arm's-length alternative to Federal spending gone awry.

Congress will be coming home soon for the holidays. Be sure to give your local office a ring and let them know what you think.

Watch out for the millions and the billions take care of themselves.

Jill S. Farrell is Director of Communications for the Free Congress Foundation.

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