NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 5, 2013

The shutdown's real battle

Barbara Anderson
Newburyport Daily News

---- — Have to update last week’s column, in which I told you the national debt was $16,745,555,054, with my twin grandchildren owing $105,746.

A week later, the national debt is $16,959,161,700; the kids now owe $107,072.

Also, the Social Security liability is $16.6 trillion. The Medicare liability is $87.4 trillion. Someone just sent me an email: “We’re always hearing about how Social Security is going to run out of money. How come we never hear about welfare running out of money?”

Got another email, noting last-minute government spending as government agencies use up their budget or risk losing some of the next year’s appropriation. From the Washington Post: The Veterans Affairs Department spent more than a half-million dollars for artwork, the Coast Guard spent nearly $200,000 on “cubicle furniture rehab,” and the Agriculture Department spent $140,000 on toner cartridges in just one day.

Fox News reported that “federal agencies last week spent money on junkets for Chinese wine connoisseurs, Christmas tree initiatives, radio ads promoting New Jersey blueberries, a maple syrup recipe contest and produced a YouTube video to instruct on the proper handling of watermelons.”

I recall such activity from my years as a Navy wife. At the end of the fiscal year, the word went out: Spend! Build a tennis court, paint the offices, paint the flagpole! Or we’ll get our budget cut for next year!

You may correctly assume that this was the beginning of my taxpayer activism.

Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz reached out during a filibuster-like address to the nation, comparing the quixotic effort of tea party Republicans to stop ObamaCare to other historic resistance to Big Government. Now he’s said he’ll donate his salary to charity for each day that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, refuses to negotiate. This is a clever way to remind voters which party is insisting on the government shutdown instead of compromising with even a one-year delay of ObamaCare.

Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist, a guest on Barry Armstrong’s “Financial Exchange” on WRKO this week, explained that while the media enjoys painting the Republicans as “at war,” they are in fact “in agreement” on major issues like school choice, welfare reform and Obamacare; their differences are on strategy.

As I write this, the Republican House has offered a compromise: Pass the continuing resolution (short-term budget) that both branches have agreed to, delay the individual mandate in Obamacare just as Obama has delayed the business mandate, remove the generous health insurance subsidy that members of Congress have been given by Obama. The Senate has so far rejected any compromise.

I’m afraid that simply delaying some aspects of Obamacare would mean another year of recession as businesses continue to avoid having the number of employees that will force them to comply with this expensive mandate. Yet, immediate implementation could drag so many Americans off their existing health insurance into the subsidized government exchanges that they become dependent, like many welfare recipients, on Big Government to take care of them forever.

Another strategy could be for House Republicans to fund one essential part of government at a time, sending each funding proposal to the Senate, letting Harry Reid continue to refuse any compromise. That, too, makes it obvious which party is shutting down the government to get its own way.

Have you noticed that different polls show different public opinion on the new health care law? There is some indication that the public responds differently if it’s called “Obamacare” than if it’s called the “Affordable Care Act.” As CNBC put it, Obama’s name “raises the positives and the negatives.”

Of course, ObamaCare is no more likely to be affordable than Social Security or Medicare (see liabilities above). Even without it, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, has been arguing that the budget itself contains out-of-control spending. “The big spenders say sequestration has cut government to the bone, yet this restraint is helping to heal our economy by reducing the debt — and deferred taxes — on future generations. And in terms of waste, we’ve just scratched the surface ...” Coburn notes that the Senate version of the budget violates the sequestration agreement and begins adding to the deficit again.

Coburn is at odds with Norquist and his “no new taxes” pledge and with Cruz and his insistence on using the budget debate to address Obamacare. But, again, this is a battle about strategy, not substance.

Moving on then to the coming debt-ceiling debate. This week, former President Bill Clinton explained it this way: The debt ceiling is actually two votes. The first is the vote to spend beyond what can be covered within the present debt ceiling, so that raising it becomes necessary.

I get that. So, the only responsible action is: Stop spending before you reach the limit of the debt ceiling. Government has to pay its debts; it can fund that priority from within the present budget, though other things will have to be cut. Maybe this will discourage politicians from spending more than we can afford during the new budget year.

One final debt number: The total unfunded liability of the United States is almost $126 trillion. If you don’t like the idea of a government shutdown, imagine a government collapse under the weight of ever-increasing debt.

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Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is president of Citizens For Limited Taxation.