Redressing the Government Spending Binge
Byline: Ray V. Hartwell III, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Conservative writer W. James Antle III has held editorial positions at The American Spectator, The Daily Caller and The American Conservative. His articles have appeared in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and the Los Angeles Times. Devouring Freedom is his first book, and I hope it will not be his last.
Cogent and well-informed, Devouring Freedom portrays our ongoing government spending binge with an impressive array of facts and figures. In 2008, candidate Barack Obama pledged to cut the deficit in half. Now, President Obama has presided over three of the four fiscal years since the end of World War II when federal spending exceeded 24 percent of gross domestic product. The fourth such year was fiscal 2009, which started shortly before Mr. Obama's election, and included the $700 billion bank bailout, which Obama supported, and the $831 million stimulus package, which he proposed and signed into law.
Mr. Antle also reviews the astonishing surge in federal government debt under the current administration. During Mr. Obama's first four years, he writes, the federal government borrowed more money than it had from George Washington's presidency to early in George W. Bush's first term. Moreover, campaign rhetoric notwithstanding, when forced to address the country's fiscal disarray, the Obama administration's response has been to propose large tax increases and phantom spending cuts.
Such deceptive political posturing about federal spending goes largely unpunished by the electorate because of a combination of ambivalence and ignorance about big government. As a general proposition, Americans prefer smaller government with fewer services over bigger government providing more services by a wide margin. However, there is a degree of selectiveness about opposition to big government "illustrated by the fact that in 2011 even Tea Party supporters opposed"major cuts" to Social Security by a ratio of more than 3-to-1.
In addition, many Americans do not understand where the real money is in the federal budget. It's not in public broadcasting or foreign aid, wasteful though they may be. Rather, the big spending is mainly in entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, and it is a powerful - although completely unsurprising - fact that people who draw benefits from a particular government program don't like to see cuts, even if they take a dim view of big government in general.
Of course, the effects of government dependency on voting patterns are not lost on politicians. Big government by its very nature creates its own constituency, even when many receiving benefits know that high taxes and spending are generally harmful. …