The Budget: Pick Your Poison

The United States government’s fiscal year begins on October 1 each year, and runs until September 30 in the next. What is supposed to happen is, some time before October 1, the U.S. House of Representatives crafts a federal budget, negotiates its passage with the U.S. Senate, passes it, and sends it to the president to be signed or vetoed. If it’s signed, it goes into effect on October 1. If it’s vetoed, the process repeats until the Congress produces something the president will sign (or, less likely, until Congress has enough votes to override the veto).

When October 1, 2010, came along, however, the Democratic super-majorities in the House and Senate had failed to produce a federal budget. Rather than risk the political fallout of passing another budget with a record-breaking annual deficit mere months before an election that already wasn’t looking good for them, the Democrats punted. They passed short-term continuing resolutions to keep the previous year’s budget—and its record-breaking deficits—in-place, and hoped and prayed the American people would fall for it. Judging by the outcome of the 2008 Congressional elections, the strategy failed.

Now the House is in Republican hands while the Senate remains in Democratic ones. President Barack Obama (D), then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 8th), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had an opportunity to pass an FY-2011 budget over a powerless Republican opposition. They did not do so. Now, they must play ball with current Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH 8th) and the Republican majority in the House, including a ‘Tea Party’ wing that demands drastic, necessary federal budget cuts.

At this point, FY-2011 is a lost cause. The doddling Democrats who refused to pass a budget before the election, or even in their lame-duck post-election sessions, have given way to a gridlocked split-Congress that has yet to pass a budget of any kind. It is now April 2011; the fiscal year is half over. We have run the government for six months on continuing resolutions, with the threat of a government shutdown looming over us much of that time, and now the two parties are intent on fighting to the death over two positions that aren’t that different anyway. The Republicans propose that we go ahead and finish FY-2011 with a crushingly-huge deficit. The Democrats propose that we do it with a slightly-larger crushingly-huge deficit.

I prefer the Republican plan, given the options, but don’t really care much either way because both plans just move us that much closer to national bankruptcy. I’d rather that they all just shut up and pass something, anything, just to get it over with and remove the cloud of uncertainty that federal employees are living under. We can pretend the ship isn’t sinking (Democratic plan) or rearrange its deck chairs (Republican plan). It doesn’t make much difference. Neither addresses the fundamental problem.

As soon as we pass something to keep us going through the last half of FY-2011, then it’s time to get down to the real work: righting the ship. FY-2012 begins in less than six months, and we need to have a budget in-place before October 1 this time around. Not only do we need a budget in-place before the fiscal year begins (imagine that), but it must be a balanced budget—or, at minimum, the first step in a two or three year plan to balance the budget. Obama’s ten-year budget plan is insulting in its woeful insufficiency. It is fraught with errors and mis-assumptions, and yet still doesn’t manage to come anywhere close to balancing the budget anywhere in its decade-long projections. If we are honest, Obama’s spending proposals are more likely to guarantee our monetary system won’t last to 2021 than they are to ever actually eliminate the deficit or pay-down one cent of the national debt—a debt that stands at $14,251,174,516,308.48 as of April 1.

Critics are coming out of the woodwork to pontificate that budget cuts, especially the piddly half-measures proposed by the Republicans for FY-2011, will reduce funding to worthy and important programs that benefit people in need. Indeed, they will, and they cut many of those social programs while leaving many other programs un-touched. As I have said before, neither party will benefit (in the long term) from maintaining funding for their pet programs and cutting those they have philosophical disagreement with. Every federal program, with very rare exceptions, must see drastic cuts—a message that does not seem to be getting through to our Congressmen of either party. This isn’t about program X or program Y; this is about the federal government either learning to live within its means or destroying itself. Those are our options.

For those of you who are concerned about budget cuts—whether for defense spending or social welfare programs or whatever your pet programs—bear in mind that the alternative, a complete collapse of our monetary system in less than a decade, will have much more dire and long-lasting impacts on those programs than any of these proposed cuts or even much worse ones. You can take the painful cuts now, or you can take much, much more painful cuts (along with a lot of other social and political chaos) later. Pick your poison.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.