Less than a month ago, the U.S. debt clock, which tracks the federal government's accumulated red ink, struck $13 trillion dollars. As I write this column, the clock has added another $100 billion. That doesn't even count our broken entitlement programs -- Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Needless to say, Congressman Walt Minnick is 100 percent correct when he says deficit spending does matter. And indeed Minnick is also correct about Congress abuse of earmarks, which, to his credit, he was sworn off using.
That's a courageous position that you'd hope other members of Congress will take. Says Minnick, "It is unacceptable for members of Congress to talk about fiscal responsibility while simultaneously requesting 10,000 special interest earmarks costing over $16 billion per year."
Pause for applause here. But I wish Minnick would also apply that reasoning to other government spending, which he has supported and continues to support. For example, Minnick should be reminded that he, and his other Idaho colleague, Mike Simpson, both voted to expand government healthcare by $32 billion through the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
Now Minnick will probably argue that this entitlement program is fully funded because it was paid for using increases in cigarette taxes. The problem, of course, is that as cigarette taxes go up, the number of smokers goes down, leaving a big hole in the funding formula for such programs. Indeed other programs, like Cash for Clunkers, which won Minnick's support last year, and Cash for Caulkers, which he supported last month, are likewise unfunded and unconstitutional federal government expansions with dubious results.
Last week, Minnick voted for the Small Business Lending Fund Act of 2010, which is another taxpayer-funded bailout program that Congress is only able to offer by firing up the government printing press and spitting out $33 billion in greenbacks.
On the other side of the equation, Minnick has proposed three different solutions to the spending problem. One is an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to balance the budget. On this point, we agree. His other two answers are problematic. Minnick is the lead author of a bill known as the "Belt Act." Here's how it works: Congress passes a bloated spending bill. The president signs said bloated legislation, and then the president recommends cuts to the legislation he just got done signing. Congress then votes on the list.
The natural consequence of such a policy will be more larded up legislation, passed under the promise the president will return a list of proposed cuts for further action. We shouldn't provide Congress and the president with additional opportunities to pass bad legislation. They should get it right the first time.
Minnick also supports the president's debt commission. While Minnick is correct that deep spending cuts are in order, he's wrong that "no options should be off the table." In fact, because Congress has been unwilling to cut spending, clearly the commission is going to faced with recommending massive tax increases, by some estimation, a giant national sales tax on top of our confiscatory income taxes.
The answer to out-of-control spending is easier than we make it out to be. Stop the wasteful spending. Stop adding new programs. End the old ones. Minnick didn't say it, but he could have: Our national debt is nothing more than a tax on our children and grandchildren. Shame on us for not having the courage make the cuts that need to happen.