Congress’ Battle over Spending: The Longest-Running Show

Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” is the longest-running show, of any kind, in the world.

It opened Nov. 25, 1952, at the Ambassadors Theatre in London and is still running.

The second-longest “play” appears to be the one we are seeing with increased frequency in Washington.

Call it the government shutdown.

It’s less entertaining and costs far more to watch than a ticket to Christie’s whodunnit.

If a shutdown occurs Oct. 1, both parties will share the blame this time.

Democrats usually force the issue, but now a few House Republicans are refusing (so far) to agree to appropriations bills unless they get their way on spending cuts.

While their goal is noble, it is a fool’s errand because the votes aren’t there in the Senate and the president retains his veto power.

What aggravates is the refusal by members of both parties to address the whopping $33 trillion debt and the effect it will soon have on the economy and the country’s future fiscal health.

Social Security and Medicare have long been the main drivers of debt, along with other unfunded mandates, but politicians don’t want to reform these programs for fear it will hurt them in their prospects for re-election.

There are other, less contentious ways of beginning reductions in spending.

The conservative Heritage Foundation has come up with seven examples of outrageous earmarks in just the Senate spending package.

While minuscule, it’s a start.

Heritage Policy Analyst David Ditch lists them:

1) New York Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand want to give $1 million to the group WE ACT for Environmental Justice. The program would link intersectionality to grievances based on race.

2) $35 million for balloons in Michigan.

3) $300,000 for the NAACP’s Baltimore headquarters.

4) Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is sponsoring an earmark to give $4 million to the tiny city of Pelican for a sewer. Only 98 people live in the Alaskan town. The cost equates to $40,816 per person.

5) Pennsylvania Democratic Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman back a $1 million gift to the William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia. The House Appropriations Committee rejected this earmark, but it’s back in the Senate version.

6) Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) have earmarked $20.5 million for the tiny Presque Isle International Airport. The amount is larger than what is given to most major hubs.

7) New Hampshire Democrat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen wants $2.5 million for a recreational project in the small town of Franklin to create “in-river features for Olympic-style competition” for sports such as kayaking and slalom.

As David Ditch notes: “While stopping one or all these absurd boondoggles would not make much of a dent in the national debt, it would mark a rare victory for common sense and fiscal sanity.”

Common sense and sanity are not the first words that come to mind when dealing with congressional spending.

They can’t help themselves because they aren’t spending their money.

They’re spending our money and borrowing the rest.

It’s a form of vote buying.

The federal government takes in record amounts of revenue, so income isn’t the problem.

Unrestrained spending is the problem.

One can choose not to see a repeat performance of a stage play, but this seemingly perpetual scenario will only “close” when voters turn out the profligate spenders.

That is unlikely to happen until more of us stop relying on government as a first resource instead of a last resort.

Writing as Poor Richard, Benjamin Franklin said: “The second vice is lying; the first is running in debt.”

If only more members of Congress would heed his warning.

If a shutdown happens it will be a plague on both parties and on both congressional chambers, as well as the country.

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