The National Catholic Review

"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.

Comments

Anonymous | 8/4/2009 - 1:40am

More than three decades ago, political scientist Richard Fenno concludes that the average American might hate Congress, but they love their local Congressman, for bringing all sorts of govt programs and goodies that they demanded, from bridges-and- roads to nowhere to patronage govt jobs. If one closely scrutinizes today's opinion polls, I bet the results won't be much different than the time Fenno made his conclusion.

And would any Americans be willing to give up access to popular govt programs (Social Security, Medicare, Veterans benefits, etc) or pay new taxes to pay for these increasingly unsustainable programs? Don't bet on it. If you want to start a finger-pointing exercise on who causes this recession and the trillion-dollar deficits in the nation's public and private spending accounts, you should first look at yourself in the mirror. Sadly folks, that's the awful truth.

Anonymous | 7/30/2009 - 12:26pm
Very good observations and comment. What's nice about making military things is that they they either become obsolete or are destroyed, thus provide an endless source of "jobs". One might note that sick people need more medical care and medicine and also provide a continual source of jobs. Does this mean that there is something that wants to keep wars and conflicts going and sick people sick? I look back at all the enthusiasm after the Soviet Union fell over "conversion"; that is, the idea that the military industrial complex would be "converted" to doing and making good things for society and humanity. But no, they remain the pale, green horse. And likewise, the idea of a one-payer system of medical care without the profit incentive to keep people sick and returning- where has that idea gone and why? And, the bigger question - what is this all leading to? Where are we going?
Anonymous | 7/30/2009 - 11:58am
Discretionary spending is so attractive because someone else pays for it and the benefits are local, while most don't appreciate entitlement spending unless they are either poor or elderly or have relatives who are either.  The tax system should reflect this.  Entitlement spending should be hidden in employer paid payroll or VAT taxes with little visibility to the workers or purchasers (except when a product is produced for export).  On the other hand, discretionary spending in the defense and civilain sectors should be funded by a VAT that everyone pays and it should be regionally based - along with the spending - with a requirement for balance.  If New Englanders want pork, they would pay a higher rate.  If they want lots of military bases in the South, they can pay with a higher VAT rate.  Make the connection that way and both taxes and spending will be aligned and will begin to go down.