Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Restoring Fiscal Prudence in Government

President Obama and congressional Democrats have already let it be known that they will refuse to negotiate when it comes to raising the debt ceiling as, yet again, we're about to run out of borrowing authority.  Their position is that Congress must ensure the full faith and credit of the United States by doing whatever is necessary to ensure we pay our bills...and, after all, it's Congress that voted to spend the money in the first place.

I can see their point.

The way to stop the perpetual borrowing and spending of our federal government is not for politicians to fight debt ceiling increases.  Instead, politicians need to fight against new and increased spending that results in the need for debt ceiling increases.  If we quit spending irresponsibly, we'll get to the point we don't need to borrow and can actually start paying down our debt while still "investing in America" (gag).

We've got to start prioritizing where our money goes, just like any other person, family, business or entity that is out of money and has maxed out the credit cards.  This isn't a hard concept for most people to understand.  Many people, especially over the last several years, deal with this problem every single day.  They can't just shit money when they run out.  They can't just go demand a raise from their employer "or else".  They can't walk into their bank and approve their own credit limit increases.  They have to cut back on some things, eliminate others, and determine priorities for what's left.

And that's what our federal government needs to do.

The problem is to the point where absolutely everything in the budget needs to be looked at and right-sized in terms of funding.  We are pouring way too much money into things that should be a low priority - if even a priority at all - and we're not spending enough on things that are critically important.

This is an excellent website that tries to consolidate a lot of information about our finances into easy-to-understand graphics, charts, and explanations.  The biggest takeaway for me is that the U.S. Treasury is our third-largest budget item behind defense and HHS.  The lion's share of that item is interest payments.  It's money we're flushing down the toilet for which we get NOTHING in return.  It's not unlike making a credit card payment of $200, with only $35 of that going towards the outstanding balance.  The other $165 is interest.  Many of us do what we have to do in order to not be in a situation where we're paying $165 in interest for every $200 we pay on our debt, so why should the government think that's OK to do with our tax money?

The 2014 budget assumes revenues (taxes) of $3.03T, spending of $3.77T, with a big fat deficit of $744B to add to the total debt of $17.3T. 

To put this in terms most people can wrap their heads around, it's like making $30,300 a year, but spending $37,700...adding $7,400 per year to your total debt of $173,000.

No bank in its right mind would lend you money if that's how you roll.  Ever.  And we, as the "bank" for the federal government, should demand an end to this kind of irresponsible, imprudent, and UNACCEPTABLE spending.

Here is Sen. Tom Coburn's "Wastebook", which contains a yearly sampling of idiotic spending by our federal government.  While the amounts look small against a multi-trillion dollar budget, it adds up quickly.  I personally work for a company who, several years ago, literally removed every third light bulb in all of its offices.  I don't remember the exact amount saved, but it was in the millions of dollars.  It goes to show that cutting out even little tiny bits of fat across the board can go a long way.

Besides unscrewing lightbulbs, here are a few suggestions on how we can get our fiscal house back in order:

First, eliminate all spending that even remotely resembles anything in Coburn's Wastebook.  Not a sampling of it, ALL of it.  Close the unoccupied buildings and sell them.  Bring back the equipment from the sandbox and either sell it, or replace the old, tired crap that our military units have to train with.  No more studies concluding that wives need to calm down.  Let Africa study the penis-washing habits of Africans, with African money.

Next, yank all "aid" to foreign countries.  Most of them hate America anyway.  We have plenty of Americans on welfare here, we don't need foreigners hanging off our teat too.  Let the great and wonderful United Nations handle all that nonsense.  And while we're at it, dial back our funding of that anti-American organization and kick its ass off American soil.  That alone would free up about a billion dollars worth of New York real estate.

Now, quit footing the bill for illegal aliens.  If they aren't subsidized, many will leave.  If they have anchor babies/wives/family members that are citizens or enjoy legal status, those people can choose to stay, or they can choose to leave with the illegal alien.  It's not our fault your beloved illegal broke our laws.  It's his.  Take it up with him and don't come whining to us about his criminal stupidity.  And for crying out loud, don't reward illegals with amnesty.  We would end up spending trillions more if we legalize these foreign lawbreakers.

By now we're making some progress.  But not enough, fast enough.  Here are a few more suggestions to rapidly get the balance sheet where it needs to be:

Get rid of bloat.  The IRS is unnecessary; there are numerous credible proposals for tax system reform floating around out there (such as the Fair Tax), and many of them don't include the need for a bloated, weaponized bureaucracy like the IRS.  Goodbye, Department of Education.  Adios, Department of Agriculture.  See ya, Department of Labor.  This stuff, if even necessary, belongs in the states.

After all of that, we should be in pretty good shape.  But if not, we'll yank funding of nice-to-have items like arts and research for a year or two, and use that money towards our debt.  The arts are nice to have, but when it comes to adequately funding the VA or subsidizing Les Miserables performances all over the country, the former comes first.  As for funding research, Susan G. Komen and the March of Dimes will have to suffice for awhile.  It won't be the end of the world.

Now, we get our house in order.  First, pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.  Every state is bound by law to balance its budget, and so should the federal government.  Eliminate earmarks by forcing lawmakers to keep bills specific in scope with all spending directly related to the bill's specific purpose - and each bill must include specific Constitutional justification to be considered.  Take the keys to Social Security away from the federal government and hand them over to an independent organization overseen and audited by a rotating group of five states' attorneys general. 

Narrow the mission of our military forces to focus solely on foreign threats to the United States and our allies that we're obligated by treaty to defend, draw down accordingly, and shift 50% of the saved money to the VA while using the other 50% to increase pay and benefits to our remaining troops and their families so none of them, down to the lowest-ranking private, are on food stamps.

Audit the Federal Reserve at random intervals, and do the same with each remaining cabinet department.  The DoD alone lost $2.3 trillion dollars, along with several billion more in equipment.

Last but not least, install real accountability, with the states providing oversight of the federal government, as it should be.

Will all (or any) of this work?  Who knows.  I think there's a not-insignificant amount of corruption and cronyism in government, and I think that's where a lot of money disappears to.  With the government as large as it is, with so many moving parts and overlapping jurisdictions and responsibilities, the scale of imprudence is less disturbing than the utter lack of interest in meaningful reform.  Just shrinking the behemoth by doing away with nonessential cabinet departments would go a long way towards getting things turned around.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right

When citizens of a foreign country enter the United States, they do so in one of two ways: the right way or the wrong way.

The right way is the way that millions upon millions of Americans and their forefathers got here.  They arrived legally, understanding that the American dream they sought could not be realized until they weaved themselves into the fabric of America.  Working hard.  Learning the language, the customs and the traditions.  Integrating themselves into their neighborhoods and society at large.  Embracing their new country.  They want to be here, they want to be Americans, and they want to assimilate and contribute not just in the workforce, but to society as a whole.

The wrong way is to sneak into the country illegally.

When people run across the desert in the dark of night, swim across a river, or overstay a visa, their very first action here is one of utter hostility towards our nation.  Contempt for the rule of law.  This is not a nation of men, but a nation of laws.  (President Obama may not agree, but I digress...)

The vast majority of people that come here, both legally and otherwise, do so because America has so much to offer.  Even now with a slow economy and tough job market, America is still a land of opportunity for all.  "Poor" in America would be considered rich beyond comprehension to a vast number of people outside of our borders.  Make no mistake...America is far from perfect, but we didn't go from nothing in the 1700s to the sole world power 300 years later because we weren't doing things right.

The difference between those that come here legally and those who don't is fairly simple.  Illegal aliens want to take advantage of all America has to offer, but have no desire to reciprocate.  They have no use for things like learning the language.  They don't give a damn about weaving themselves into the fabric of America.  They don't care about the country or its society.  A study cited by the New York Times found that only 40% of illegal aliens pursued citizenship after being granted amnesty in 1986.  In short, most have no use for anything but a way to make money to send home to their families in the countries to which they remain loyal.  They want amnesty so that it's easier to do so.

This doesn't necessarily mean getting a real job, either.  Many illegals came here with heavy loads of narcotics on their backs from the drug cartels south of the border.  Others joined Latino-oriented street gangs such as MS-13 and are part of the cartels' distribution network.

The only group of illegal aliens that I have any sympathy for are those that were young children when their parents brought them here illegally.  They didn't have a choice in coming here, and as they get older they are being told they can't fully participate in the only country they have ever known.  The parents of these children deserve special punishment for subjecting their kids to the challenges they are facing today.

Since what was to be the "last amnesty" passed into law in 1986, granting a mere 3 million people legal status in this country, we have been besieged by 10 million more illegal aliens.  This is because the border was utterly ignored in 1986.  However, today our politicians boast that the border is as "secure as it's ever been", but he presence of these additional 10 million illegal aliens prove that "secure as it's ever been" is wholly unacceptable.  We're right back where we left off in 1986, but with four times the number of illegal aliens for taxpayers to support and our government to deal with.

Anyone with a lick of sense should be able to connect the dots and see what kind of impact 12 million newly legal workers would do to the job market not only for American citizens, but also those immigrants that respect the rule of law and endured the process to come here legally.  You think it's tough finding a job today?  It will be twice as hard if another amnesty bill is passed.

There is already a "pathway to citizenship" available to those here illegally.  It's called applying for citizenship and waiting your turn just like millions of legal immigrants have already done.  Meanwhile, as far as I'm concerned, illegals in this country today can "live in the shadows" (seriously?) and deal with the challenges that are inherent in choosing to be here illegally.  Why should they get special consideration?  

The pro-amnesty idiots love to talk about "fairness".  I think it would be amusing to watch them peddle their amnesty nonsense to a family that waded through tons of red tape and waited years to get here about what's "fair" and what's not.

It is wrong to cross our border illegally.  It is even more wrong to reward those who did with legal status.  Two wrongs don't make a right.  Any immigration reform bill absolutely MUST deal with border security first; anything short of that is 100% unacceptable.  It's colossally stupid to bail the water before plugging the hole.