We probably shouldn't call it a sea change, but it did cause more than a ripple across the otherwise uniformly liberal surface of the LA Times when it issued a warning in today's editorial that spending under President Obama may be getting out of hand. As you peruse it you'll see it's hardly a call for fiscal austerity and sacrifice, but anytime the likes of the Times calls Obama's version of "pay-go" "practically worthless," it should catch our eye.
Almost unique among all other professional callings, politics is one in which satisfying the pre-requisites should disqualify you from obtaining office. Beyond having built up a lengthy political resume with the goal of progressively higher office--read more power--one of the more unflattering characteristics it requires is an out-sized ego. 'Political calculation,' which is, of course, something of a redundancy, encourages the most cynical and craven motivations, and the result is a Congress that moves in a kind of perverse unison, blindly voting for more and more spending.
Anyone who studies Congressional spending habits--an admittedly masochistic practice--knows that "pay-go" is nothing more than a political fig leaf for tax increases. As the Times editorial notes "A true pay-go rule might help curb the worst instincts of lawmakers," but as it's typically enshrined, it merely provides an end-around for extracting higher taxes: To wit, Obama's favored "pay-go" program exempts 40 percent of the budget that is discretionary spending, which is why when pay-go was law between 1991 and 2002, Congress still increased the budget deficit by $700 billion, since the law is written with exceptions such that Congress--and the president--can easily find ways to ignore it.
Critics have suggested everything from a line-item presidential veto to a Constitutional amendment that requires a balanced budget, but those are either unconstitutional or unworkable. Moreover, they smack of the kind of rules we institute for adolescents to keep them from unwittingly harming themselves due to the pathological stupidity endemic to that age group. We would like to think that some version of common sense would suddenly overtake Washington, but as history demonstrates, a lightning strike on a clear day is far more likely.
Part of the problem, it goes without saying, is us. We've clearly raised stupidity to a kind of virtue in that as our average weight increased our knowledge of economics and history decreased. The result is that as Obama lobbied earlier this year for so-called stimulus spending at levels that stagger the imagination, many, perhaps most Americans nodded their heads in bovine-like agreement. Now, with health care 'reform' apparently just around the corner, they're once again heading for the fiscal precipice, lemming-like.
For those of us who find rewards in sacrifice, who see the civic symmetry of a restrained government, and who are convinced that risk was meant to be a part of life in America, it's thoroughly dispiriting to live through all of this. That this appears to be the narrow edge of a wedge malignly designed to willfully weaken this great Republic, pains us is ways that no words can express.