Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Thought We Were Broke?

Recent forecasts from the Congressional Budget Office include a record $1.8 TRILLION federal budget deficit for this year alone, an additional $9.3 TRILLION accumulating in deficits through 2019, and a long-term (75 year) shortfall in funding for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid at an additional $43 TRILLION.

(A staggeringly effective way to envision the scale of just one trillion is provided here.)

If you chose to believe them, the only conclusion is that we're totally screwed. Or, as budget deficit expert Barack Obama puts it, our current deficit spending is "unsustainable."

We are tapped out. To resolve this situation, our only options are massive cuts in spending and/or raising taxes to economic growth crippling levels. You can choose your poison there. What is obvious to anyone paying attention is that we cannot continue business as usual and take on every new discretionary spending obligation that tickles a legislator's fancy. That's what got us into this problem and has driven us to the edge of fiscal catastrophe.

You know who must not believe the Congressional Budget Office figures? Our newest member of Congress, Sen. Al Franken. Certainly the CBO figures have been made available to him. Yet among the first things he does when he gets into office is this little initiative:

U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has co-sponsored legislation to train, place, and retain school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists in school districts that need them.

Minnesota ranks 49th in the country in counselor to student ratios, with one counselor for every 800 students. Considering the critical shortage of these professionals throughout the state, Minnesota in particular stands to benefit from this initiative.

Filling the strategic vocational counselor gap, that's why I voted for him.

"Minnesota students deserve personal attention from school counselors," said Sen. Franken. "On everything from choosing the right college to dealing with social issues affecting their performance, our kids need a professional to talk to within their school. This legislation will help to give them that opportunity. We should never be behind the rest of the country when it comes to providing for the well-being of our students. Minnesota students deserve better."

Now if he could guarantee that never again will a high school student be allowed to pursue stand-up comedy as the path to becoming a US Senator, I could get behind this.

Whether or not public schools actually need more counselors is debatable. Whether or not the alleged problems cited will be cured by Franken's legislation is questionable. Whether or not the Federal government needs to step in and start paying for the employees that school districts or states should be taking care of is highly doubtful.

What is not in question is the propriety of this discretionary pending in the context of the federal deficits outlined above. It is irresponsible to propose new spending obligations for items that in no way can be considered a priority above what we already owe trillions more than we can pay for.

And how many more of your future dollars is Franken looking to throw on top of the mountain of debt his Senate colleagues have already accumulated? From the appropriations section of the bill, the so called Increased Student Achievement through Increased Student Support Act (S.538):

There is authorized to be appropriated to carry out this section $30,000,000 for each of the fiscal years 2010 to 2020.

$300 million of brand new spending. For school counselors. Any current school counselors worth their salt better be advising their students to consider a career in the lucrative field of school counseling.

Yes, I'm sure that amount is considered a mere drop in the bucket for members of the US Senate. But back here on planet Earth, it is a massive infusion of money. Money we simply don't have. All for a feel good, pork barrel, pet project, luxury item.

Franken sees our tax dollars as a shiny new toy to play with and he's going to use it in the same manner his fellow legislators have for decades, all the way to tens of trillions (and counting) in debt for the American taxpayer.

As we've seen over and over again, with the likes of Betty McCollum and others, even with the dire information provided from the CBO, these politicians see no need to set any priorities in spending, everything can be funded, nothing needs to be sacrificed, they think they can create utopia, and they think there is no limit to the amount of your money they have available to fund it.

Until these types are voted out of Washington once and for all, there will no hope or change on the horizon.

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