Budgets Gone Wild
Before you read my story on the federal budget, consider this observation, from a certain Mr. Pendleton, testifying before the U.S. Senate's committee on civil service and retrenchment:
"No single human being, however great his intelligence, discrimination, industry, endurance, devotion, even if relieved of every other duty, can possibly, unaided, select and retain in official station those best fitted to discharge the many and varied and delicate functions of the government....It boots not to consider the origin of the evil, or the responsibility of one party more than another. The fact confessed by all observers and commended by some 'to the victors belong the spoils;' that with each new administration comes the business of distributing patronage among its friends."
"There has grown up such a perversion of the duties of that high office, such a prostitution of it to ends unworthy the great idea of its creation....The spectacle exhibited of the Chief Magistrate of this great nation, feeding, like a keeper, his flock, the hungry, clamorous, crowding, jostling multitude which daily gathers around the dispenser of patronage, is humiliating to the patriotic citizen interested alone in national progress and grandeur."
He was speaking on May 15, 1882.
From the Style section today, my story on the federal budget:
As you may have heard, the latest White House proposal for the federal budget amounts to a bazillion gazillion dollars, give or take a jillion. The great news is that, according to White House calculations, the budget deficit has been cut in half, a feat achieved primarily by running up the deficit to such grotesque levels that the halving of it is like drinking too much and then passing out.
The president boasts that the budget will be running a surplus by 2012, though this hypothetical surplus is based on such things as the sudden outbreak of World Peace.
What's true, however, is that the projected federal deficit of $239 billion for the 2008 fiscal year is considered so low compared with the recent horrifying budget deficits that officials are high-fiving one another over their fiscal restraint.
"It becomes like Monopoly money," says new Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, the former state auditor of Missouri, who has been eyeballing how the government spends money. "It's not real."
The federal government will spend nearly $3 trillion this year, which is about a trillion dollars more than when George W. Bush took office. The United States is a big, rich country, with a central government that is arguably the most powerful secular institution ever to exist on this planet -- a government that makes the Roman Empire look like a bowling league.
But anyone who looks closely at the budget quickly gets a scrunched-up brow. The "mandatory" portion of the budget, the entitlement programs, is surging. Health care is a grave concern. Baby boomers are reaching retirement and they're all going to want new hips.
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