Three Warning Signs That the U.S. Congress is Addicted to Spending (Updated 4/2/17)
Political Pork, An Obsession With Spending
A few years ago, I had both the unfortunate need and the liberating opportunity to admit that I was an alcoholic. As a result, I’ve been through treatment in which I learned a great deal about the subject of addiction. The program began with something called an Alcoholism Assessment. It was simply a series of questions designed to reveal the depth of my addiction. One way of looking at my addiction was to identify ways I had used to avoid admitting I needed help.
I noticed an opinion column recently in which the term addiction was used in reference to the elected members of our federal government. The point was not that they are all substance abusers, but that they are addicted to overspending taxpayers’ money –– our money.
I thought it might be interesting to apply some firsthand knowledge of being an addict, to that particular subject. Do our governing officials, in any way, behave as though they have an addiction to overspending? I’ve chosen three responses which addicts commonly give to the suggestion they have a problem. Here is how the members of the United States Congress might respond to the suggestion that they are addicted to overspending.
Overspending Addiction Assessment for Congress: Overview
- Divert-This potential addict would say something like this: I don't have a problem, but that guy over there does.
- Delay-An addict might admit he/she has a problem, but they will deal with it in the future sometime.
- Decrease or Moderate-Nearly every addict would love to be able to use less of the substance rather than eliminating its use. This is known as use in moderation.
Uncle Sam Needs Your Money
Diversion: The Addict Shifts Attention Himself/Herself to Others
As an active alcoholic, I tried to divert the attention from myself by pointing out others who were much worse than I was. Alcoholics are bums living under bridges who drink out of bottles shrouded in brown paper bags, and I most certainly am not that, an alcoholic like me would proudly say. Do our elected officials exhibit this same tendency regarding their out of control spending of our money?
When the subject of spending arises in Washington, fingers start pointing. Everybody points at someone else. If every finger pointer is a budget hawk, then our government is awash with people who exhibit great restraint when it comes to spending taxpayer money. But that can’t be the case because they spend an obscene amount of money.
Democrats point the finger at Republicans and Republicans at Democrats. Both can’t be wrong in their finger pointing or we wouldn’t be racking up the national debt the way we are. But both most certainly can be right, though. Both parties vote to spend far too much money. Yes, that includes the tax-cutting, small government Republicans as well as the tax-and-spend, big government Democrats.
Since The days of Herbert Hoover, four of the top five presidents, in terms of spending increases during their tenure, were Republicans (Forbes). During President Obama's time in office, the national debt increased by 87% or more than 9 trillion dollars. Presidents do submit budgets, but it is congress that votes to spend. It is a myth that the Republicans are the party of low spenders. Both parties are big spenders, but each accuses the other of that political defect. This is typical behavior of addicts.
U.S. Capitol Building
Delaying: The Addict Agrees to Get Help Sometime in the Future
Another way alcoholics avoid dealing with their addiction is to say they will stop drinking, just not today. Some day, some time is always a better time to deal with addiction than the here and now. I can’t tell you how many times I promised myself that I would quit drinking, tomorrow. How about our senators and representatives? Do they postpone dealing with their addiction to shopping with our tax money?
Have you noticed that during every election campaign, somebody spends a lot of time promising that they will find ways to reduce government spending? And when will they do that wonderful deed? After the election, of course.
Newcomers to government can’t be accused of putting it off because they are not yet in the position to spend anybody’s money but their own….oh, and that of their donors too, I suppose. And that often amounts to millions of dollars. But incumbents, it seems to me, are definitely guilty of putting off their recovery from overspending until after the election. But when that day comes, addiction runs rampant, and they spend, spend, spend. The promise to quit was simply a ploy to put off dealing with their problem. Again, this is typical behavior of addicts.
Moderation: The Addict Seeks to Decrease Practicing Their Addiction
As an active alcoholic, I used to make all kinds of promises to myself and my family about my drinking. I didn’t promise to stop….well I said that too (with no follow through), but mostly I promised to slow down, to moderate my drinking.
My plan was that I would go to the bar, get one drink and nurse it for the whole time I was there. That way I’d only have one drink for the entire evening. Picture that for a moment. I would go to the same place I used to get drunk, spend hours with the same people I used to get drunk with, and all the time, they would still be getting drunk. But not me. Mind you, this was only a theory. It never actually happened. How might this behavior apply to our addicted public servants?
The same senator or representative who has been guilty in the past of overspending, promises to moderate this tendency. He or she goes to the same Capitol Building, to the same committees and votes on the same spending plans, but now he/she will behave differently. While their fellow addicts vote for spending more on everything under the sun, this person of great self-discipline will now vote to spend less. Mind you, this only works in theory, it never actually happens. Don’t forget that a spending cut in Washington means that spending will rise at a slower rate than it did the year before….but it will still rise. That’s right. A spending cut is actually a spending increase. Welcome to the world of addiction.
Answer: The amount spent by the U.S. Government in one minute.
Question: What is $7,000,000? ($117,000/second which is double the median household income per year)
The Taxpayers, The Enablers
Most of us understand the concept of an intervention with an addict. Family, friends, coworkers and employers confront the alcoholic with their perspectives on his addiction. They tell him how his abuse of alcohol affects his family, his job and other relationships. They issue an ultimatum to the addict. Get help or else. The consequences for not heeding this advice are severe. The alcoholic may very well lose their family and their job. Who could perform such an intervention with our elected officials? Who could sit down with them right now and say, stop the addictive behavior of overspending, get help with your problem, or else?
The tax-paying public might be the kind of people who could step up and issue the ultimatum, but that would require some soul searching on our part as well. We, the taxpayers, are enabling congress to overspend not only by electing the overspending addicts time and time again, we enable them because we like what they buy us. Granted, we don’t like the high taxes, so we support lowering those, but we all have pet government programs that we don’t want to see cut. We can’t intervene with our present mindset because, as enablers, we are part of the problem.
National Debt Clock From 2002, 2004, 2010, 2017
The only thing that convinces an alcoholic to get help is when he or she hits bottom. That means that their lives fall apart to one degree or another. The bottom for one may be lower than the bottom for another, but the fact remains, the circumstances of their lives must get unbearably bad before they will seek help.
How much national debt is too much? How much exchanging of personal responsibility for government programs is too much? How many potholes do we need to drive through, how many deteriorating bridges need to be closed because the money for fixing them was sent to China to pay interest on our debt to them? How much more of our personal wealth are we willing to see disappear into the black hole that is Washington, D.C.?
The United States Congress has sunk very low in its addiction to overspending, but it appears they have not yet reached the bottom.