Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What does a $1.1Trillion Federal Spending Bill buy these days?

At first, I read the CNN article on the $447 billion spending bill that the Senate passed this weekend and then I came across an AP article on the Lynchburg News Advance web site that listed the same story as a $1.1 trillion spending bill. Why the massive discrepancy between the two stories on the same spending bill? The CNN article highlights the domestic, non-Defense spending while the AP article adds both the domestic ($447 billion) and the Defense spending ($626 billion) to arrive at the $1.1 trillion figure. The problem with the AP article is that the Senate hasn’t passed the Defense part of the spending bills yet. But this raises the question: what kinds of Christmas goodies do you get from the Federal Government for $1.1 trillion?

For starters, it will likely mean that the Federal Government’s credit card limit will have to increase. The Senate will have to vote to raise the debt ceiling to accommodate the end of the year funding for the Defense budget. On the $447 billion portion, that goes to mandatory payments towards Medicaid and Medicare and also increases funding to things like the FBI, the Veterans Health Administration, and the National Institutes of Health, public schools, highways, and even NASA. It also covers $3.9 billion in spending on more than 5,000 local projects (a.k.a. Pork Projects), a 2 percent pay increase for federal employees and funding for other small scale projects.

Then there is the $626 billion Defense bill that will likely be passed this week, to continue funding the military and other National Security agencies and includes billions of Pork Projects (most all of them inserted anonymously). While there are certainly loads of things that can be and should be cut from the domestic spending bill the Senate just passed, but is there nothing in the Defense bill that can’t be cut? Defense spending accounts for a third of our Federal Budget. According to the information about the Federal Budget on Wikipedia, the 2009 Department of Defense Budget is $515.4 billion and the Global War on Terror Budget is $145.2 billion (2008). The Defense Budget accounts for around 55% of the Discretionary spending side of the Federal Budget ($1.21 trillion). This is compared to the mandatory spending, which is $1.89 trillion includes things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, Unemployment, Welfare, interest on the National Debt, and other mandatory programs.

Discretionary means that you don’t have to spend the money. In tough times this also means that things will get a harder look and might not get the money they did the previous year or two. In the uncertain economic times we live, and with the fluid situation in the Persian Gulf region, the Defense Budget is the only part of the Discretionary budget that gets a pass with very few exceptions. The Defense Budget dwarfs everything else (even when you don’t add the Global War on Terror). Keep in mind, the Federal Government has no separate funding for the Global War on Terror. Every other war we’ve fought has been funded by some other means than just spending money out of the current Federal Budgets.

So, what does a $1.1 trillion spending bill get us as we head into the Christmas Holidays? We get to keep the Federal Government running. As painful as that is to small government and Tea Party blowhards, it means that maintenance will continue on our roads, bridges, and overpasses. It means that law enforcement agencies (like the FBI) will continue to be funded, as well as keeping open the thousands of crumbling public schools and pay for the teachers, staff, and administrators. State budgets, already cut to the bone, will get another shot in the arm to keep them functioning as well. It also means that the most powerful military in the world will continue to function and they can continue to recycle the thousands of brave men and women that have gone above and beyond the call of duty and get them the best socialized (military) medical treatment in the world, as well as provide them with mental health services that have been severely lacking.

Regardless of what people have been led to believe, our tax money is spent relatively wisely. But, at some point, we are going to have to face reality of choosing between cutting services or raising taxes to pay off the Federal Credit Card (a.k.a. the National Debt).