EDITORIAL: Congress needs a chainsaw

Tiny cuts won’t prevent looming federal insolvency

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House Republicans are expected to vote Tuesday on yet another short-term budget extension that nibbles away at the massive deficit. Senate Democrats and the White House have blasted as “irresponsible” the idea of reducing the amount of money government will borrow this year from $1.48 trillion to $1.42 trillion. So House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, is taking a piecemeal approach that will end up reducing spending by the same amount.

The House voted Friday to eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s $1 billion “Emergency Homeowners Relief Program,” a useless boondoggle that costs taxpayers 98 cents on each dollar invested. On the previous day, the lower chamber sent the Senate a bill shutting down $8 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) spending. Tuesday’s vote would keep the government open until April 8 while making another $6 billion in noncontroversial cuts.

The largest chunk of savings would come from the elimination of $2.6 billion in previously approved earmarks. Another $1.74 billion rescission would come from 2010 census funding - hardly a daring move considering the census is already complete. The bill also trims $19.4 million in funding for tourism promotions in the national parks. It cuts $25.5 million in “global warming” programs so worthless that even the White House budget zeroed them out. Most of the other reductions come from the Senate Democrats’ list of obsolete programs that no longer need money.

On Friday, Mr. Obama drew a line in the sand to ensure the House majority doesn’t try to extend the cuts to any of the Democratic sacred cows. “My general view is, let’s not try to sneak political agendas into a budget debate,” he chirped. “I think one of the messages that the American people have clearly sent is get serious about living within our means and managing our budget in a responsible way, and stop with the political bickering.” Of course, for the president, “no bickering” means caving in to his demands and leaving alone the taxpayer money handed to National Public Radio and various union groups upon whom the Democrats depend for re-election support.

Focusing on the squabble over budgetary scraps overlooks the far more serious problem. The deficit for 2011 is expected to be $1.48 trillion. On Wednesday, after reviewing the the financial statements for the federal government, the Government Accountability Office stated, “The Financial Report, like the latest Congressional Budget Office long-term budget outlook and GAO simulations, shows that the federal government is on an unsustainable long-term fiscal path.”

It’s clear that splitting the difference between the parties, or even adopting the House funding proposal in full, wouldn’t come close to balancing the books. It’s also evident that Mr. Obama is not going to budge on an any issue that touches his political constituency - and the entitlements bestowed upon this dependent class are the root of our problems. It won’t be long before punting the hard choices down the road is no longer an option.

The easy, Democrat-approved cuts are going to dry up, and before long we will hit the debt ceiling. It’s difficult to see a resolution to the impasse that doesn’t involve shutting down the non-essential functions of government. To survive the president’s inevitable attack if this happens, the House majority will need to articulate how borrowing trillions from future generations to pay for yesterday’s spending is no longer acceptable. A shutdown would send the message that it’s time to get serious and go after the budget with a chainsaw, not fingernail clippers.

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