April 17, 2007

The 110th Congress Of Irony

Congress takes up many silly, superfluous, but essentially harmless bills every session. Usually these consist of naming post offices or proclaiming National Caesar Salad Month, which allows constituents back home to believe that their Representative or Senator actually does something valuable. As we have seen lately, it keeps people from asking what the hell Congress has done in its first 100 days.

However, sometimes they adopt resolutions so laughable that one has to bring hydraulic jacks to place one's jaw back in place. This week, Congress plans to dedicate a coming month to -- are you ready for this? -- financial literacy! HR 273 promises to highlight all the failings of the American people, in the biggest case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Perhaps Congress might want to consider leading by example, rather than dedicating a month of the year to scolding its constituents. They refer to the fact that "consumer debt totaled $2,400,000,000,000 in 2006, of which credit card debt alone exceeded $825,000,000,000," but fail to note that Congress once again spent hundreds of billions more than it received. They note that personal savings dropped last year for the first time since the Great Depression, but they fail to note that Congress still passes supplemental spending bills that go directly towards the nation's debt without any accountability in the budget. Rep. Hinojosa and his colleagues decry the fact that only 42% of the nation's workers have calculated how much they will need for retirement, while successive Congresses have done everything possible to avoid reforming the coming insolvencies of Social Security and Medicare.

Instead of directing the President to issue a proclamation to federal agencies, states, cities, and citizens to "observe the month with appropriate programs and activities with the goal of increasing financial literacy rates", Congress should observe the month by eliminating pork and useless federal spending. That would force them to do something other than feed lobbyists and buy influence back home with our tax dollars -- which is why Congress would prefer to outsource financial literacy. (h/t: The Heritage Foundation)

Note: You can read the full text of the resolution in the extended entry.

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Comments (15)

Posted by TheConfusedOne [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 17, 2007 7:23 PM

I think the President should call their bluff and offer a program that actually covers the Social Security program. Show the US people how utterly inferior and insecure it is compared to 401K's and then ask people why they should be handing their hard earned money over to the government if the government can't promise them any of it back. (IIRC, there was a court case that covered the fact that Social Security isn't in fact a guaranteed program.)

Posted by Lew [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 17, 2007 7:46 PM

What more blatant evidence does one need to prove how utterly disconnected the American Governing Class is from anything remotely close to reality? What kind of dream world do you have to inhabit, to miss the irony here?

The phrase "mind boggling" just doesn't get the job done!

Posted by lexhamfox [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 17, 2007 8:06 PM

Ed is right about the pot and kettle situation here. Let's hope that once Americans understand debt and solvency and the corresponding economics, they will vote for similarly enlightened representitives.

Posted by chsw [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 17, 2007 8:49 PM

Somewhere, there is probably a concordance showing what the US Government's finances would look like if it had to use private sector accounting principles. However, the result would be at least 535 more felons, plus a few more from the US Treasury, GAO and OMB.


Posted by justamomof4 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 17, 2007 8:53 PM

"H.R. 273 promises to highlight all the failings of the American people, in the biggest case of the pot calling the kettle black."

While this promises to rival the fierce diplomacy of the UN

H.R. 808: Department of Peace and Nonviolence Act

The 110th Congress is proving to be as entertaining as Monty Python.

Posted by Bennett [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 17, 2007 8:58 PM

I've never really understood why it is so hard for people to understand that if they spend more than they make, the paycheck is only going to stretch so far and that credit card debt is especially evil (yes evil!) because it so easy to incur a large balance and so difficult to pay it off quickly. It doesn't seem as if you would need any special instruction to get this.

But I also don't think it's really the business of government to be hectoring me about my personal finances. So here's an idea: if Congress wants to involve itself in that part of my life, I will gladly accept it as long as it's accompanied by a significant tax cut. The single biggest bill I pay every month, after the mortgage, is federal income tax.

Posted by J. Mark English [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 17, 2007 10:01 PM

That is fantastic! Thanks for pointing out that irony.


Posted by TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 17, 2007 11:00 PM

You're right Ed - the last thing we need is to have Congress to jawboning the American people about financial profligacy.

But while we talk about "Congress", let's not forget that the budget was balanced under Clinton and running in the black, and that the Republicans brought us both the prescription entitlement and the Iraq war - both wonderful gifts that will keep on giving for decades to come.

I bring you a nice little excerpt from an article in Portolio.com about the Iraq war and the Weapons of Mass Pork involved:

According to the Congressional Research Service, the combined cost of the Iraq war (Operation Iraqi Freedom, in Pentagon jargon) and its companions, Oper¬ation Enduring Freedom, in Afghanistan, and the Global War on Terror, could easily top $600 billion this year. Staggering as that number is, Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard economist Linda Bilmes calculated that the real cost exceeds $2 trillion. The annual congressional appropriations for the wars—averaging $127 billion—are bigger than the global markets for soap, heroin, or gambling. Monthly spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan averaged $6.8 billion last year, according to the Department of Defense’s comptroller. That figure is now closer to $8 billion a month.

At that rate of burn, General Electric’s value would be wiped out in three and a half years, Bill Gates’ personal fortune would evaporate in just seven months, and the troubled Ford Motor Co. would cease to exist in a matter of weeks. If you think of the wars as a giant impulse buy using an unlimited credit card, then paying it off would require coming up with enough cash to match the G.D.P. of three Irelands or about 11 Kuwaits or the Netherlands—but only if you throw in Sri Lanka. Or if you think of the wars in terms of a country that produces nothing but has to buy about $127 billion worth of goods and services per year to sustain itself, that country would have a lot of eager customers and the second-largest trade deficit in the world. (The U.S. would still be a comfortable first.)

The biggest contractors include the usual names, like Boeing, which provides Apache helicopters at $32.7 million each under contracts totaling $20.3 billion in 2006. But the Pentagon has also drafted M&M’s into the military industrial complex—Mars received $55 million for products in 2005—along with a little company in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire: Monadnock Lifetime Products, which supplies $1 disposable plastic handcuffs to soldiers. Its 2006 revenue from sales to the military was $1.3 million.

In many cases, the D.O.D. is unable to specify what it has purchased from contractors. Asked about a $321 million payment made to Altria/Kraft, a defense department spokesperson took two weeks to explain that it was for “assorted groceries.” (Altria/Kraft was unable to be more specific.)

Isn't it wonderful what Republicans have wrought, but "Congress" is now responsible for?

Posted by Rose [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 18, 2007 12:10 AM

Strange the Congress - of all people on the face of THIS earth - would want to highlight the American citizens' financial illiteracy at this time - so soon before the next election - considering it took such a drastic downturn after the Federal Dollars began strangling the Public Schools and other educational facilities.

Posted by Rose [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 18, 2007 12:30 AM

Strange the Congress - of all people on the face of THIS earth - would want to highlight the American citizens' financial illiteracy at this time - so soon before the next election - considering it took such a drastic downturn after the Federal Dollars began strangling the Public Schools and other educational facilities.

Posted by Rose [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 18, 2007 12:51 AM

oops! I didn't see that coming,

Sorry for the double post, guys.

Posted by docjim505 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 18, 2007 4:37 AM

lexhamox wrote (April 17, 2007 08:06 PM):

Let's hope that once Americans understand debt and solvency and the corresponding economics, they will vote for similarly enlightened representitives.

An excellent point, but I think that the American people are perfectly happy to elect financially incompetent boobs... so long as those boobs are spending too much money on the "right" things.

Bennet wrote (April 17, 2007 08:58 PM):

The single biggest bill I pay every month, after the mortgage, is federal income tax.

I've never heard it expressed quite like this, but you're absolutely right.

Imagine what would happen if, instead of withholding, the feds changed the tax system so that we had to pay our taxes to them once each month like we pay our car payment, mortgage, etc.

I'd guess that within two months, there'd be a huge outcry for tax cuts.

Within four months, there'd be mass marches on Washington.

Within six, there'd be congresscritters wearing tar and feathers... or decorating lamp posts!

Congress loves to wave its collective finger in the air and "tut-tut" about people who are "ripping off" the American people. I've seen Barney Frank yapping about changing the laws regarding mortgages because so many Americans are going into foreclosure; seems that their nasty ol' mortgage brokers aren't telling them that (gasp!) the rate on an ARM can actually go up, or that if they don't pay their mortgage, the bank will actually (gasp!) sieze their house.

TokyoTom's post (April 17, 2007 11:00 PM) reminds me of Harry Truman's Senate committee that looked into waste and corruption in the military during World War II. A few points:

1. I wonder if anybody's bothered to do an analysis of waste and corruption in, oh, the Department of Health and Human Services, or Education, or even State. It's been many years ago, but I recall seeing a news report about waste and inefficiency in Medicare; seems that the government was paying something like $2 apiece for Bandaids. That was only one small example of how our money was being wasted.

2. The sheer size of the government makes inefficiency unavoidable. I wonder how many pages long this year's budget is? And that doesn't even count supplementals and emergency spending bills. We know something about the pork that was loaded into the Iraq supplemental. What was it? $25 millions for spinach growers?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

3. This is absolutely a bipartisan problem. Inefficiency, waste, pork and outright corruption occur whether the dems or the GOP have control of the White House and the Congress. Votes are bought with pork and earmarks; lobbyists are in and out of Congressional offices regularly, making sure that their industry or their company or their union gets its cut of the federal pie. It didn't start in '94, and it ain't gonna end tomorrow.

Each side trying to blame the other actually prevents getting a solution, in my opinion, because it allows sneaky, porkster politicians to deflect attention (and, therefore, blame) from their own outrages:

Senator Foghorn: "Why, it's an outrage! The majority party has been spending like drunken sailors! Vote for us, because WE will be careful with your tax dollars!"

Critic: "But didn't you put an earmark in this year's budget to build the Rufus T. Foghorn Memorial Horse and Buggy Museum in your home state?"

Senator Foghorn: "How dare you, sir! That project will employ tens of thousands of hard-working citizens and spur economic activity! An absolutely vital project! If you want to see waste, look at this year's defense budget!"

Critic: "Um, but... Didn't you vote for that?"

Senator Foghorn: "The majority party wouldn't allow us to debate! Things would be different if I, Senator Rufus T. Foghorn, held the gavel on the committee!"

4. If you ask the various members of Congress or the president or the cabinet secretaries, everything in the budget is absolutely vital. In some cases, it really is. I mean, so what if the feds are paying $32.7 millions for an Apache helicopter? "The boys in Iraq NEED those things, and we don't have time to haggle with Boeing!" (Which, it so happens, contributes millions to various (ahem) reelection funds every year).

Look at the screeches of outrage when there was a cut in the rate of growth for the federal school lunches program a few years ago. "Poor children NEED those free meals (never mind that, for the money we're spending, they could eat lunch at Ruth's Chris every day)! We haven't got time to haggle!"

6. And, every year, we John Doe's demand that the feds take on other responsibilities... which means they've gotta spend more money. Older people having trouble paying for their meds? Expand Medicare to give 'em free drugs! Hurricane wipe out thousands of homes along the coast? DHS and FEMA will take care of it! Public schools performing badly? Quick! Call the Department of Education!

And so it goes...

Bottom line: Congress is fiscally incompetent because we want them to be.

You get the government you deserve.

Posted by SwabJockey05 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 18, 2007 5:48 AM

Great Point Dr J.

I despise gov waste more than the next guy. I too find it comical the way the lefties always point to DOD "waste". Is there “waste” ? Sure, there's waste in the DOD. While I've never been issued one of the $2 dollar band aids, I have personally rested my backside on the "$600 toilet seats" (they are quite comfy, and function quite well I might add).

The big difference between the two is that DOD spending is CONSTITUTIONALLY mandated...the other lefty (Dhim and Repub) favored programs are not. The debate over DOD "waste" should be done in a transparent, open manner with accountability to each Foghorn...but the other "waste" shouldn't be happening in the first place: It's UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

Until we put the critters running (ruining) this country back under the Constitution, we are doomed.

Posted by Doc Neaves [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 18, 2007 7:33 AM

And so, once again, I tirelessly repeat the refrain, knowing I will hear nothing but poohpah's and groans about how unrealistic it is, even though it directly removes the enabling feature that allows such waste.

Voluntary taxes.

One day, maybe sanity will reign. The government has the power to hold you up like a highway bandit, at the point of a gun, just because, like a petulant teenager, they say they need more money, all the while laughing at you because you complain, but fork it over, and then snap at your neighbor with a "HOWDAREYOU" when they try to reduce THEIR debt by cancelling YOUR free lunch, calling them selfish and unpatriotic.

Voluntary taxes.

Fires five-hundred-thirty-five selfish thieves in one fell swoop. You send it in, you decide whether it goes to build the Lawrence Welk Bubble Museum or a bridge to save you twenty miles of driving, along with half a million other people (you know, less gas, less cost to government vehicles, all the ancillary gains, etc., etc.). If bubbles are what you want, then your money goes to bubbles.

Voluntary taxes.

It will work.

It is not a new idea.

Ben Franklin even thought of it.

Voluntary taxes.

And, while we're at it, you have to eliminate property taxes, because otherwise, nobody really owns anything, they just rent it from the government, who takes it the first time you don't pay your "taxes" (rent).

Posted by Rovin [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 18, 2007 7:53 AM

But while we talk about "Congress", let's not forget that the budget was balanced under Clinton and running in the black,

Well written piece of fallacy by TokyoTom.

In 1995 Clinton submitted a buget that included a deficit of 350 billion. It was the newly elected republican congress that rejected Clintons buget and then submitted and passed the balanced buget amendment that Clinton was forced to recognize. And folks like Tom seem to think this little bit of historical fact can be twisted to put the honorous on Clinton. What a crock.

On January 26, 1995, the balanced budget amendment passed the House, 300-132, with 10 votes more than the two-thirds majority needed to pass a constitutional amendment. Action then shifted to the Senate.

On March 2, every Republican senator except one, along with 14 Democrats, voted to approve the balanced budget amendment. But supporters still fell one vote short of getting the necessary two-thirds majority and the amendment failed to pass.

Any one care to guess who still had the majority in the Senate?