Editorial: Boomsday, here we come

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Even while borrowing and overspending like no time in America's history, our members of Congress still could not bring themselves to turn off the spigot or stop feathering their own gilded nests.

Indeed, Congress has sent a $1.1 trillion year-end omnibus spending bill to the president's desk that contains more than 5,200 additional earmarks totaling nearly $4 billion intended for special projects in their respective states and districts. It raises federal spending at quadruple the rate of inflation - 10 percent - for various programs. Federal workers will get a 2 percent pay hike at a time when private sector workers all over the United States are losing jobs and benefits and facing wage freezes and furloughs.

It comes on top of a nearly $800 billion stimulus bill earlier this year, and just in the wake of a record $3.6 trillion federal budget for fiscal year 2010. It doesn't even include the $626 billion defense spending bill the House passed on Wednesday. It comes as the national debt has surpassed $12.1 trillion - after hitting $11 trillion just last March, after topping $10 trillion in October 2008 - while rising to alarming levels as a percentage of gross domestic product, which is one measure of the nation's ability to repay those loans.

To add further insult, Congress may raise the federal debt limit again, though it looks at this writing as if they've backed off the additional $1.8 trillion - to $14 trillion total - originally being considered. Don't worry, they'll be back for more, as they have been about 100 times since 1940, when the debt limit was $49 billion - reportedly less than a week of D.C. spending now. For a minute there, they actually exceeded the existing debt limit this week, technically putting the nation in jeopardy of defaulting. Ideally, the penalty for that would require handcuffing members of Congress to the national debt clock in New York City.

And yes, on Christmas Day.

"Congress must be restrained," said Sen. Evan Bayh, who sometimes sounds like one of the few sane voices left on the Democratic side of the aisle. He was one of just three Democrats in the Senate - Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin were the others - to vote no.

"I would hope the president would veto this bill," Bayh indicated. "It's bad for our country's finances. It's bad for our children because we are going deeper into debt to China. It sets a terrible example by showing that politicians are totally out of touch with the sacrifices middle-class Americans are making.

"With politicians showing no willingess to cut back at a time when ordinary folks must - well, that is just deeply wrong."

We'd share those sentiments.

Look, we've never had the objection to earmarks that some have had. Arguably some of this spending is worthwhile. Places like Peoria might get left out if a local congressman wasn't going to bat for it. The law that now requires all earmarks be posted on the Internet is a good thing. We appreciate that - perhaps partly as a result of that mandated transparency - the number of earmarks and their price tag are down from the previous year. There is some truth to the charge that Americans hate somebody else's earmarks but love their own.

And this is still too much money, as evidenced by the fact that all of it will be borrowed.

The argument that this is a bipartisan addiction - that Republicans did it, too, and now it's Democrats' turn, essentially Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin's position - just doesn't wash with us, especially in a crisis of the kind this nation is experiencing right now. Sen. Joe Lieberman is worried to death about the spending in the health care bill, but walked three miles from his synagogue to the Capitol last Saturday to cast the deciding 60th vote on this measure. Bet he couldn't wait to get there.

To be sure, there is hypocrisy to spare on this issue. Many of those who voted no this time around will still show up at the project ribbon cuttings.

In short, President Obama promised change, but nothing has changed - at least for the better - on the spending front. It's unlikely he'll veto this measure, despite his campaign promises to tame this beast. He talks derisively of the "fat cats" on Wall Street - and he is surely right to do so - but what about the "fat cats" on Capitol Hill, in his own back yard?

It's reminiscent of the 2007 novel "Boomsday" by Christopher Buckley, which satirically tells the fictional tale of the intergenerational conflict that develops between retiring Baby Boomers and younger Americans angry about being stuck with the bills their parents and grandparents piled up.

You'd think heretofore unimaginable numbers like those listed above would have this nation's citizens seeing red as well as drowning in it. Boomsday, here we come.

Peoria Journal Star