There’s no other way to put it. Congress is simply addicted to spending Other People’s Money. The latest evidence of their problem was the bill to resolve the fiscal cliff, which was stuffed with slabs of pork. That’s like sneaking drugs into your rehab counseling sessions.
The fiscal cliff was created to help restore fiscal discipline. Instead, President Obama negotiated $41 in tax increases for every dollar of spending cuts. Unable to restrain themselves at the sight of a “must pass” bill, the spending junkies snuck in subsidies for electric motorcycle manufacturers, NASCAR and Puerto Rican rum makers.
They showered $59 million on algae growers and $430 million on Hollywood producers. That last group was particularly deserving because they gave so freely of their time turning out for lavish Obama fundraising bashes.
Just days later, the bill to provide relief for hurricane Sandy victims was also spotted as a “must pass” measure not subject to normal appropriation rules. To the spenders, that means “game on.” So $23 billion of the $60 billion bill went to address the emergency damages sustained from the hurricane. The rest went to non-emergencies like upgrading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration aircraft and grants for water and air pollution to states and tribes.
Federal subsidies for wind power provide a stark example of how difficult it is to terminate worthless spending. These handouts began 20 years ago in an effort to boost a promising energy source. They haven’t worked but the dollars keep rolling along.
In the absence of any technological breakthrough, according to the Department of Energy, average wind-power costs are actually higher in 2009 than in 1994. Moreover, wind-power sources have to be backed up by traditionally fueled plants (the wind doesn’t blow all the time, you know), which must be kept running in order to be available when needed.
Wind power is subsidized $52.48 per million watt-hours, compared to $3.10 for nuclear and $.63 for natural gas. These subsidies are so generous that wind-power producers can actually pay utilities to take their energy and still make a profit.
But in Washington, none of this matters. Each wind project is located in some congressman’s district, which means they have a fearless champion who can team with the financially clueless environmental lobbyists to keep the gravy train going. The extension of the subsidy will add $12 billion annually to the deficit. Meanwhile, Energy Sec. Chu soldiers on with plans to subsidize construction of three more offshore wind projects at $47 million each.
The ethanol mandate may be the most ludicrous federal policy of all. Although the subsidy was terminated a year ago, the mandate wreaks the same economic damage by forcing Americans to burn our food supply. Last year, our cars burned as much corn as was raised in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and India combined.
The inevitable result was rising food costs, an especially serious matter in Third World countries facing chronic shortages. Many international relief organizations have begged the US to suspend the ethanol mandate but to no avail. Central American peasants don’t have Washington lobbyists nor do they vote in the Iowa primary, so they’re out of luck. Meanwhile, we all pay more for food and fuel and our air quality is actually worse.
Now our addicted politicians promise they’ll break that spending habit next time, when the debt ceiling is raised. But why would we believe that? The resolute spender Obama will still be president, the Senate is so incapable of decisive action they haven’t passed a budget in three years and the House may be less conservative than before. Demagogues will be on standby 24/7 to pounce on anyone brave enough to whisper a word about entitlement reform. It doesn’t look good.
This nonsense will stop only when taxpayers put as much heat on their politicians as the moochers do. Algae growers, Hollywood moguls and ethanol producers are the low hanging fruit of federal waste. If we can’t get them off the dole, we have no chance of meeting the major challenges necessary to get us back on track.
East Valley resident Tom Patterson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a retired physician and former state senator.