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Who’s Going to Pay the Piper?

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Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Baton Rouge, Louisiana



It’s the holiday season, and we always talk a good bit about watching our weight and curtailing our appetite.  We just cannot pass up all the tempting finger food at holiday parties, washed down with too much to drink and desserts galore.  Wait till the New Year, right? That’s the message we received from Democrats and Republicans alike in the final days of the 111th congress.  Both parties are supporting a second stimulus package that will blow another $1 trillion hole in the budget. Forget the ever growing deficit.  It’s just not the right time.

What a well worn phrase.  It never seems to be the right time in Washington.  After all, we are continually told, the economy is fragile and the recovery is halting.  But when is the “right time?”Â  It wasn’t that long ago when the economy was churning.  So instead of planning a reduction of the deficit, both parties joined the fray by adding massive entitlement programs, cutting taxes, and entering two wars that cost several trillion dollars. Who cares about the debt?  The mantra to follow is Mark Twain’s — “never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

It should be obvious to Republicans in congress that the president was wrong to believe that the United States could fight a war, cut taxes and increase federal spending all at once. Yet here they are, embracing Keynesian economic arguments they have denounced for years.

When I was on the radio in New Orleans on WRNO a few years back, I enjoyed my regular economic policy arguments with Rob Couhig, a lawyer friend who preceded me on the early morning time slot. Rob would often stay over for my show, and it was a standing joke that he would constantly bring up the theories of Nobel Prize economist Milton Friedman, working Freidman’s thoughts in to any and every conversation.

According to CNN Friedman’s ideas “were embraced by President Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, and lauded by many in the business world. But they were also controversial because of the deep cuts in government spending and the more restricted role they entailed for government in buffering citizens from economic forces.” To most Republicans, Friedman’s views represented the “holy grail” of how government spending policy should be implemented.

But we sure have seen an about face by Republicans and conservative Democrats alike. Now, Republicans have joined hands with Democrats in a Kumbaya embrace of the Keynesian arguments that they have denounced for years.  As Time economist Fareed Zakaria points out: “John Maynard Keynes argued that when private demand weakens, the government should pick up the slack.  He advocated either of two paths: government spending or tax cuts.”Â  Republicans and democrats alike have irresponsibly embraced both options with no one around to pay the bill.

And what’s all this ballyhooing for bipartisanship?  Both parties are so proud of themselves for “reaching across the aisle” to find the middle ground.  But how does this really get the best result?  Does this, “I’ll take a half a loaf if I can’t get the whole loaf” theory really benefit anyone? Voters want solutions that work, and problems to be solved.   Not so much “bipartisanship,” but more “post partisanship.”

It’s not easy for a new congressman arriving in Washington not to be seduced by the swarm of vested interests licking their chops to bring the new lawmaker into the partisan fold.  Platoons of Wall Street bankers, 13,000 corporate lobbyists, corporate media flacks, Demodon’ts, Republican’ts, war machine promoters, tea party yackety-yackers, and other powerful forces of business-as-usual politics are not so easy to resist.  I wrote last week about the throng of Tea Party candidates who ran against the Washington establishment ““ and that within weeks of their election victory they were jumping at the chance to have these same lobbying interests pony up at one big money Washington fundraiser after another. The early lesson is to stay in lock step with your respective party leadership, and, from the very start, gather up campaign dollars.  No time here for post partisanship solutions.

State governments are not immune from the Washington mentality of spending with little regard for cutting back. In my home state of Louisiana, the governor is proposing the selling off of state buildings and other state properties to fill the current year’s budget shortfall.  This means doing away with an asset to pay for years worth of debt.  Huey Long would be rolling over in his grave on the front lawn of the state capitol, except for the fact that he might be part of the onetime fire sale. Any way you look at it, this is an irresponsible way to pay stare expenses.

Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy, who is a dwindling voice of reason in state government, put it this way, “A junkie can go sell his television and sell the radio and pay for a fix,” Kennedy said. “But sooner or later… he’s got to face his addiction. I would prefer to have us face our addiction.”

Louisiana workers, by the way, will see significantly less help in the new proposal than most of the rest of the country because of the greater number of low wage earners.  Any employee making $20,000 or less will not get the benefit of a $400 tax credit, and state employees, who are exempt from payroll deductions will also see a tax increase compared to those who make significantly higher wages.

Americans are borrowing more and spending more. And they are running up a higher personal and national debt.  We keep hearing that our national debt is now above $13 trillion dollars. But when you include Baby Boomer demographic demands that include Social Security, union, pension and health-care obligations that all end up drawing on the public purse, the national debt  skyrockets.

China lends us cash so that we can give ourselves one more big tax break. So when all is said and done in Washington, Democrats and Republicans alike, find it much easier to give away $ one trillion, than to make any meaningful effort to curtail spending. Congress is merely buying time.  Sadly, that’s not what leadership should be about.


Govern a great nation as you would cook a small fish.  Do not overdo it.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South.  You can read all is past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com. The show is televised at http://www.justin.tv/jimbrownusa.

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