A cure for Washington’s culture of debt
Zero-based budgeting might restore discipline and honesty to a Washington that seems overcome with financial attention-deficit disorder.
There’s a Washington restaurant my wife and I went to recently that proudly promotes its “Pre-Theater Specials” menu. The menu allows a Kennedy Center patron to choose between several options for a starter, main course, and dessert, all for $35. Sound like a deal?
I did the math. If I bought the items separately, they’d cost less. “The Pre-Theater Special comes with wine or coffee or something, right?” I asked the waitress.
She sighed. “No, it’s just the three food items.”
“Are they bigger portions?”
“No,” she sighed again, “it’s just the three food items.”
“You do know why I’m asking, don’t you?” I asked.
“Yes,” she sighed even louder. “You’re from out of town.”
After I quit chuckling, I realized something. The restaurant’s “special” seems representative of Washington’s ways with money.
The politicians who swell our national debt apparently are so insular that at least one restaurant that caters to them knows they can’t – or won’t – do simple math. Only we “rubes” recognize that a special is supposed to decrease, not increase prices, and have the impudence to say so.
Twenty years ago, hundreds of members of Congress were caught writing personal checks with insufficient funds. Today, Congress is doing the same but on a much bigger scale – with your money. Yet such cavalier spending seems OK at a time when even our own Treasury secretary was caught making a large “mistake” on his tax bill – in his favor.
Why is it that whoever we send to Washington, regardless of party, loses the capacity for the simple math taught in elementary school?
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Call it “financial attention-deficit disorder.”
I may sound picky here, but we’re talking about huge debt. The Senate is currently debating legislation to raise the so-called debt ceiling by $1.9 trillion, to $14.3 trillion. This is just weeks after Congress approved raising the ceiling by $290 billion, after it was packaged by the speaker of the House so that any member voting against it would appear also to be against supporting our troops.
After the House vote, a congressional hearing made it clear that Washington had no idea how much the United States pays contractors in Afghanistan.
Then, the US secretary of State pledged $100 billion to help developing countries adapt to global warming. That would mean the US will end up borrowing more money from China to give it back to developing nations. For free.
Over the course of the 2008-09 financial crisis, meanwhile, Washington supported bank bailouts without legally limiting bonuses.
Now that the 2009 books are closed, some Wall Streeters are being promised their biggest year-end bonuses in history – confirming that Washington’s financial attention-deficit disorder rewards you for losing dollars, regardless of whether those dollars belong to your employer or your fellow taxpayers.
It continues: Today, we’re watching the possible passage of a healthcare program. Most serious observers report it will skyrocket the annual deficit unless massive savings can be wrung out of Medicare and Medicaid fraud. This is a promise candidates have failed to fulfill for years.