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Three Warning Signs That the U.S. Congress is Addicted to Spending (Updated 4/2/17)

Updated on April 2, 2017
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Through his travels and reading, Chris gathers information and writes about historical events and concepts which are often overlooked.

Political Pork, An Obsession With Spending

Addiction Assessment

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

Source

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

Source

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.

Political Jeopardy

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?

No one.

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

September 13, 2002
September 13, 2002
September 24, 2004
September 24, 2004 | Source
July 1, 2010
July 1, 2010 | Source
February 17, 2017
February 17, 2017 | Source

Hitting Bottom

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.

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    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Deb, you've got my vote. Electing those who don't want the job would also mean they wouldn't hang around for so long in government. Thanks for your comments.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Sounds like we have to begin electing people that don't want the job, as they won't spend as much money as the ones that want to get richer. I'll take the job for protecting our wildlife, but only at half salary.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      tsadjatko, I hope you are right and that it is as simple as electing the right Republicans next time around. But the momentum is in the direction of spending like madmen in order to buy the popular vote. We all want something from government and the Knaves (good word) will spend whatever it takes to give us what we want.....if it means we'll vote for them again. I hope there are some who are still above that despicable level of governing.

    • tsadjatko profile image

      TSAD 2 years ago from maybe (the guy or girl) next door

      Great Hub Page Cam!

      I'll tell you when we will hit rock bottom, that is if we haven't already, which electing a Republican house and senate is a good sign that we have if they actually do what they say about spending (unlike the congress under Bush).

      Elect another Democrat for President and that will be our nation’s bottom when it comes to our addiction to overspending, that will be a new bottom in electorate ignorance and gullibility, and a new bottom in America's social, intellectual and moral fiber. What we need isn't an AA for spenders but a KA for politicians. (K stands for Knaves)

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Paula, lot's of good points in your comment. Thanks for responding to the article. Your last line is interesting. "I think the more simple something is to handle well, the harder it is for addicts to come to terms with it!!" Not drinking when a person has a problem with alcohol seems like an easy thing to accomplish. But, as you said, for the addict it is incredibly difficult. The spending craze we are on won't be overcome with ease. It will take something very near to a revolution if we are to get control back from politicians.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Cam......I can appreciate the way you have made the correlation. Very clever while making a lot of sense. In my own life, money spending (or actually NOT spending) is always at the forefront. It's possible I may be addicted to proving just how well I can handle my finances sensibly.

      This attitude of mine makes it very painful for me to see how the Politicians mismanage, misdirect, overspend and feel they are free from responsible reporting.

      Sure, I don't doubt it's pretty easy to spend OTHER PEOPLE'S money. The craziness is, this is our Country, we ALL live in it together and every move that is made, effects us all. So, in keeping with your theme....if all members of a family are working hard to be responsible, frugal and selfless, except for one member, who continues to place the family in debt and disaster.....There IS a serious problem.

      Cam....I think the more simple something is to handle well, the harder it is for addicts to come to terms with it!!

      Excellent hub.....UP+++ pinned& shared

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Cam......I can appreciate the way you have made the correlation. Very clever while making a lot of sense. In my own life, money spending (or actually NOT spending) is always at the forefront. It's possible I may be addicted to proving just how well I can handle my finances sensibly.

      This attitude of mine makes it very painful for me to see how the Politicians mismanage, misdirect, overspend and feel they are free from responsible reporting.

      Sure, I don't doubt it's pretty easy to spend OTHER PEOPLE'S money. The craziness is, this is our Country, we ALL live in it together and every move that is made, effects us all. So, in keeping with your theme....if all members of a family are working hard to be responsible, frugal and selfless, except for one member, who continues to place the family in debt and disaster.....There IS a serious problem.

      Cam....I think the more simple something is to handle well, the harder it is for addicts to come to terms with it!!

      Excellent hub.....UP+++ pinned& shared

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Cam

      We learned it the hard way! We still aren't 100% there yet (as I've said we're still not saving enough to pay for ourselves in retirement) but we're moving in the right direction and forcing our government to do the same!

      In NZ anyone proposing big spending has to make it clear where the money is coming from and raising taxes etc is guaranteed to get you thrown out. Even putting more tax on Petrol will give you a bumpy ride in the polls!

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      It's good to hear that some country has enough sense that the individuals know it really is up to each person to do the right thing. I appreciate the thoughts on this subject.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Cam

      With fourteen trillion dollars (US) in government debt I'd find it hard to handle too!!

      Kiwis are strange in that they don't trust government to bail them out. I still think we have a personal debt problem that might border on addiction

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      lawrence01, I think I understand what you are saying. Saving is good, whether it is individuals or government. Forcing people to save, or forcing them to pay for their own healthcare is acceptable if the government is also behaving in a disciplined way. But forcing people to save while the government goes on a spending spree is simply offensive from the point of view of the people. This amounts to the government forcing individuals to do what it will not do. It is a way for the government to make someone else pay for its shortcomings. Do addicts behave this way? Absolutely. Addicts require those around them to meet every need in the family in order that they may go on in their addictive behavior. Addicts demand this. This is another way the government reveals its true nature. It is dysfunctional because of its addiction to overspending.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Cam

      I'm not sure I'd agree that society is 'near rock bottom' with it's spending. The real question is how much are we saving?

      Ten years ago Kiwi's were spending 120% of their income! They used rising house prices to cover it with selling the house and taking the capital gain to pay off the debt (we have no capital gains tax here) and start again.

      Five years ago that had changed to Kiwis spending 97% of their income. The 3% was a compulsory retirement plan that the government introduced that is privately run, but you can't access the money until you hit 65!

      Here we have a government that is actually trying to be fiscally responsible (mind you most of them are ex Farmers and Bankers who aren't used to government handouts) but the real problem is with the individual who collectively have a huge debt and are still funding the lifestyle with debt. I found your hub fascinating and so accurate to the real addiction.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Randy, the key words are "recovering" addict, and that is a very good thing. Congratulations to you on that point. Your ex-wife was definitely onto something in the paper she wrote. Let's hope that society's rock bottom isn't much further away.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Lawrence01, We are told over and over again that government spending and personal spending are good for the economy. I'm afraid our economy has become dependent, not on simple spending, but on overspending by individuals and government. Good for you, for taking steps to bring your own spending under control.

    • Randy Horizon profile image

      Randy Hirneisen 2 years ago from Philadelphia

      Chris your article is very true and I completely agree. I also must fess up, I am a recovering addict as well, from opiate pain killers. My ex-wife who was a drug counselor (if you can imagine that) wrote a paper comparing society to addiction. When it all hits rock bottom everyone will feel it and that is very sad. I don't think it will be very much longer until that time comes. Great hub, you hit a true hot spot.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      We have the same issues here. Last election the party that won (the incumbent) ran in the premuse of no new major initiatives (except vital infrastructure that was years overdue) as they needed to get government revenue back in the black and raising taxes was out of the question. So far they've been good to their word (mostly) but the country is watchin

      Truth is I read your hub and realized I needed to change my spending as well. How can I expect government to do this if I don't myself?

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      lawrence01, thanks for stopping by and commenting. There is legitimate spending to be done by government, and deciding what is necessary and what is waste is the problem. Line by line, it would probably take a citizen committee years to unravel. But I do believe somebody outside government has to do it. It has to be systematically analyzed and categorized so that waste and duplication can be spotted and eliminated. I know I am making it sound like it is easy, and this is far above my pay scale. But it still needs to be done.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      This isn't just a US problem. It's the same in most countries. The question is 'how do we change it without hurting the vulnerable?'

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

      we spend and spend to feel gratification.. and so does the government.. they have this saving phobia,,:) It costs to rule, and watch over us.. but what's the cost.. soon other nations would own us.. because are we for sale? enjoy the hub it brought back college trying memories, government spending pickets.. and sit ins..:)

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Bill, thanks for visiting and commenting. You are right, it is all about power. I always thought that was supposed to be in the hands of the people in America. Sadly, I don't think it was taken from us, I think we just gave it away.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Shauna, Thanks for those thoughts.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Thanks Ann

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I love the analogy, Chris, and you are right on calling this an addiction...an addiction to spending and an addiction to power.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      Awesome article, Chris. Your comparisons are spot on. I would love to see this on the front page of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      No need to apologise! I totally agree.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Hi Ann, UK, US it doesn't matter. This behavior adds up to disaster. When the mass of the superstructure of social spending is greater than the ability of the supporting structure of available revenue to support it, bad things will happen. How can they not? Only egomaniacs with no concern about future generations would do such things. That was a mouthful. Sorry. Thanks for your comments.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      You could apply this equally to our British government, Chris. They don't stop in their madness and no one seems to have any common sense.

      We have an election coming up and they're all promising the earth with no explanation of how they're going to deliver. For the first time, I have no idea how to vote. I feel a duty to vote but there is no party I trust.

      You're right to talk about addiction here; they convince themselves they're talking and acting 'for the good of this country' but in fact it's all about image, gain and fingers in pies. Sad.

      Well argued piece to make us sit up and find a solution.

      Ann

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Eric, There is certainly something going on in Washington, and it has nothing to do with common sense. We pay them to draft laws and most of those require taking more money from us and spending it on something expensive. Thanks for reading and for your comment.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I think this is a very apt comparison. I always wondered if there could be "group alcoholism" but I am sure there is "group addiction" to spending as you lay out here.

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