Which is what I wish I could say to the newest members of Congress. Those who are heldovers from the 112th are already too encased by their party lines.

On Wednesday night last, the day after we avoiding going over the Fiscal Cliff, we were told that included in the new bill were earmarks for industries and causes that had little or nothing to do with the immediate problem.

My own reaction was actually physical. I felt sick. What astonishingly selfish yet uninformed Tea Partier, or denizen of the Senate, or brilliantly connected lobbyist, would take advantage of slipping these things into a bill designed to help our citizens continue the economic recovery we may or may not be having?

How could politicians not understand that these earmarks were a slap in our faces, a way of telling us that while we may hope for the best, the future contains no changes in how Congress operates. At all. Probably worse is the secondary information offered: the next two months are going to be intolerably partisan since some unknowns are determined to “get theirs” and the rest of us be damned.

Beginning long before the 2007/2008 economic meltdown on Wall Street, honesty had been fading from fashion. One look at the whoppers dreamed up during the last election cycle only confirms this. Further, no one ever seems to be apologetic about making false statements, or, worse, about defrauding his or her neighbors’ financial security.

I agree we’re in a terrible fix…of our own making, or rather, actually, of Congress’s…with our assent.

As I understand it — and I am not an economist — the national debt has been dramatically increased by “grants in aid” promised by Congresses to various organizations and causes over the years. The remainder may be somehow divided between allotments for social programs (also approved by Congresses past), wars (again, approved by Congresses past), the necessity from time to time to borrow money from others for our own excessive expenses of all kinds and on which we pay interest.

Which is why I am so disheartened by “The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.”

To pass it was necessary I agree.

What wasn’t necessary are the earmarks that amounted to more than 100 million dollars, and probably a good deal more, that went to NASCAR racing facilities; extended credits to green-energy vehicles; more tax credits for the biodiesel industry; not to mention asparagus producers, Hollywood film-makers, and rum producers in Puerto Rico.

Now, here’s where I want our representatives to pay attention. By granting these earmarks, and others through the ages, the US is guaranteeing payment to those generally less than needy recipients by using our tax dollars.

Another way of saying the same thing is that the income the treasury might have expected from these beknighted groups disappears, and in its place are the dollars we spend being true to our earmark promises.

When we promise to help disaster victims and their families rebuild, when Congress agrees on the amount of foreign aid to be spent each year, when Congress does not allow Medicare to bid competitively for drugs supplied at a discount to its members, we are in effect giving revenue away. We end up owing money to these projects by virtue of agreeing to help, and the amount of revenue brought in each year declines by the same amount.

Which is to say our national debt increases annually by the amount of money we (or Congress) agree to spend.

The government’s money is what we give it. There may be other sources: industrial settlements or fines for fraudulent behavior or paybacks for Tarp’s generosity. But by and large, what we pay in taxes provides the government with walking around money.

So that when we decide, via our representatives in Congress, to assist a nation, an industry, a school system, the oil lobby, the money the “government” allots for these purposes should be exactly what it has brought in from us in the forms of taxes, penalties, and fees.

The “debt ceiling” has existed almost as long as our country.

So to all our brave and fool-hardy newcomers on the Hill who think of debt in the future instead of having been racked up by their own institution in the past, here’s another bulletin. The debt ceiling works exactly as your credit cards do. You order something on line, pay via a credit card or Paypal, and you promise to pay that amount to your card-holder. This now becomes a debt, from the past, for which you are on the line. (Generationally, if you can’t pay or you die, your heirs are on the hook for your spending. Which leads demagogues to complain we are enslaving our offspring by loading them with more debt than they can handle. But it’s our debt, not theirs.)

Listen, please, carefully. To run a national government is a back-breakingly expensive operation. You, as our representatives, voted to spend. We as voters allowed you to spend. And the bill, sooner or later, is coming due.

In cause and effect, the debt ceiling idea is simple. Do we as a nation pay our bills, or do we default and bring down our proud history?




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