Bob Barr: ‘Federal spending insults families and small businesses’

by Bob Barr
as published in The Atlanta Journal Constitution

For America’s families and small businesses, 2009 was a year to forget – if only they could — and 2010 looms gray and foreboding. But for the federal government, happy days are here again. Actually, they never left – Washington is printing and spending greenbacks, and offering huge salaries to its workers, as if there were not a cloud on the fiscal horizon. In fact, Congress and the president just teamed up to pass another obscenely bloated spending measure.

Shortly before Christmas, the Congress took a break from its on-going effort to destroy the best health care system in the world, just long enough to send President Barack Obama an omnibus spending bill to keep dozens of government agencies running into 2010. Yet, unlike the average American family, and most small businesses in the country being forced to curtail purchases and hiring because personal and business incomes have dropped, the government increased spending; not by one or two percentage points, but by a whopping 12 percent.

Even though former President George W. Bush unashamedly sought and signed significant spending increases during his two terms, it has been nearly three decades – going back to the transition from President Carter to President Reagan in 1980-1981 – since the federal government increased spending by 12 percent.

Some may throw their hands in the air and conclude that since the government already is operating with a national debt exceeding $12 trillion, adding another $1.1 trillion is not that big of a deal. However, responsible adults who actually understand economics shudder at what our leaders are doing to us. For example, the bipartisan Peterson-Pew Commission, a group of former members of Congress and budget experts, issued a stark warning that the red ink engulfing the federal government has truly reached the “danger zone.” Even our largest foreign creditor – China – is squirming at the continued deficit spending by the US.

On the other hand, special interest groups like the Congressional Black Caucus, not only see nothing wrong with rolling up ever-increasing deficits, but clamor for more spending. Members of this Caucus defend such a fiscally irresponsible position because of the need to ensure that those it purports to represent are not “left behind.” (Better the entire nation be “left behind” than a perceived interest group.)

Other groups and congressional constituents are not so pious in elbowing their way to the front of the federal “pork” disbursement line. As in previous years, the bill just passed by the Congress – which does not reflect either total federal spending or total pork barrel spending – is right up there in terms of pork blue ribbons. Lurking in federal spending bills passed thus far, are some 7,577 “earmarks” valued at $6 billion.

Pork barrel spending is only one troubling aspect of Washington’s profligate ways. The ranks of highly-paid federal workers continue to expand, even as America’s civilian labor force contracts. Some 383,000 federal workers earn six-figure salaries; with 22,000 of those earning more than $170,000. Non-salary benefits for federal workers add another $41,000 to the average annual federal compensation package, according to the CATO Institute.

While I and many observers rightly criticized George W. Bush for his spendthrift ways, compared to the current occupant of the White House, he was a skinflint. In his first year in office, Bush spent $1.8 trillion, which — large as it is — pales in comparison to the $3.5 trillion Obama has spent in his freshman year.

Americans ought to be outraged at the continuing fiscal disconnect between the real world and that inside the Washington Beltway. Unfortunately, the one-two punch of congressional appropriators and White House wastrels, has knocked the wind out of many of those who might otherwise be counted on to oppose such wasteful measures as the recent spending bill.

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