Ten days after the partial shutdown of the federal government, a number of things have become clear.
If a partial shutdown of the federal government is causing as much inconvenience as the talking heads claim, then the federal government is doing too much. The federal government has constitutional authority to defend the United States from invasion and domestic disturbance, to build highways, and to deliver the mail. But it has taken on many tasks better left to state or local government, or to private enterprise and voluntary associations.
Too many people are dependent on federal checks. Not just the 47% that Mitt Romney talked about, but even many in the middle class and upper middle class that tend to vote Republican. Tens of millions of retired people are dependent on social security for their livelihood, and medicare to pay for their health care. Those checks are going out – now – but as the federal government goes deeper into debt and takes on more responsibilities, the financial resources needed to maintain older Americans in dignity may also be threatened.
Another issue, rarely mentioned, is that the partial shutdown of some federal government services comes after many agencies engaged in a spending spree at the end of their fiscal year in order to avoid a cut in future appropriations. If they had acted more responsibly, some of the closed government bureaus could still be functioning as they await new appropriations.
And now, as the U.S. government reaches the limit of its authority to borrow, the President is asking for Congress to authorize an increase in the debt limit, to authorize the federal government to borrow more. The government is spending money so fast that even with a quarter trillion dollars coming into federal coffers in any given month, the government still has to sell securities to “balance” its books.
Democrats in Congress are pointing to the hypocrisy of Republicans over the debt limit, since Republicans in Congress – with a few exceptions – regularly voted to hike the debt limit to let President Reagan and President Bush run deficits that were unprecendented at the time. During the reign of President George W Bush, an expensive war and expensive new federal programs created new record deficits, and Congress controlled by Republicans voted every time in favor of hiking the debt limit. Republican leaders even suggested at one point that the law be changed, so that if Congress voted to spend money in such a way that new borrowing would be needed, the debt limit would automatically go up.
So we have Republicans in Congress, who approved every big government proposal put forth by George W Bush talking about fiscal responsibility. Democrats who have voted for massive new spending under President Obama now talk about raising the debt limit to protect “the full faith and credit of the United States.” When they voted to spend money, how much did they care about “the full faith and credit of the United States”?
Perhaps Republicans are making themselves look foolish by focusing only on the cost of the Affordable Care Act, when Americans are only now finding out just how much this new government program will cost. But now, as the federal government reaches the limit of what it can take in taxes, and faces a legal limit on what it can borrow, maybe now is the time to talk about the full cost of the federal government – across the board – and not just the cost the latest government program.
And perhaps Republicans can be more honest about how much responsibility they have for expanding the power – and the cost – of government. And Democrats should have to spend a few more weeks talking about “the full faith and credit of the United States” so that we can remind them of their words when they plan to vote for new expensive government programs that will again call into question “the full faith and credit” of the federal government.