"How long, O Lord?" asks the psalmist. Just when you want to applaud the compromise efforts in the House and Senate aiming to reduce the cost of the health care overhaul, acknowledging the justifiable concern of some on the right that it is too pricey, you see, these two headlines across the top of your paper this morning. "Lawmakers Cut Health Bills’ Price Tag" and "House Seems To Be Set on Pork-Padded Defense Bill."
Yes, it turns out that once again Congress is hell bent on giving the Pentagon weapons that even the Pentagon says it does not need or want. More C-17 transport planes, the VH-71 presidential helicopter, four more planes of the kind used by lawmakers on official business, all will be funded because defense contractors have so thoroughly farmed out their work across the country that every cutback in any defense program is going to mean job losses in several congressional districts. Next year’s price tag for the unwanted military goodies: $6.9 billion.
In these dark economic times, it is easy to sympathize with the desire to do almost anything to keep people employed. But, why not have them build horse buggies? No one would use them either. Nor do I dismiss all the concerns raised by Blue Dog Democrats as penny-pinching miserliness, especially because many of their concerns have to do with bettering rural health care, concerns that, in turn, affect the way the entire plan is structured.
Congress wonders why it continually does so poorly in national surveys. The current approval rating for Congress according to RealClearPolitics.com is at 30.6 percent. Yet, every year, 98 percent of congressmen get re-elected. Part of this is the effects of computer-driven, highly partisan redistricting. But, part of it is the reverse NIMBY syndrome that is as old as politics itself. We want government spending in our back yard, even while we denounce wasteful government spending generally. We don’t want our neighbor who works at the defense contractors to lose his job even while we see the absurdity of building weapons the Pentagon does not want. Americans should give themselves a thirty percent approval rating too. The fault lies not in the stars, not even just in our congressmen.
Democrats, however, should see how this particular storyline hurts them terribly, especially now. Having shelled out zillions for the TARP bailout and more zillions for the Recovery Plan, they are now trying to keep the cost of health care reform around $1 trillion over ten years. (Mind you, the Pentagon budget is more than $6 trillion over ten years.) People are beginning to worry where all the money is coming from because they now at the end of the day some of it will be coming from them. To see spending that is simply wasteful such as these defense expenditures is politically stupid.
Speaker Pelosi and some top Democrats should meeting with their Republican counterparts and say, "You want to offset the cost of health care reform, here is knife and there is the budget, let’s have at it." Maybe they will save some money, maybe they won’t. But, if the hypocrisy quotient in this town goes down a bit, the effort will have been worth it. They can discuss it all on one of those new planes they are buying.