At school districts all around me here in South Carolina, teachers are being forced to take furlough days, parents are being asked to stock supply closets, and voters in Charleston County were forced to choose between a sales tax increase or a property tax increase to fund seismic repairs to area schools. In other words, school districts here in the Lowcountry are strapped for cash.
Considering that, imagine the surprise when the Charleston County School Board met on Monday night and voted down a request by district officials for an additional $135,000 for new carpet installation and other renovations to the human resources department at the district’s main office on the peninsula — on top of the $140,000 already spent renovating those same offices.
“When is somebody going to stand up and explain that we simply do not have the money?” asked WTMA-AM radio host Richard Todd yesterday morning. “I would love new cabinets in my kitchen and new flooring throughout my house, but I know and my wife knows that we simply do not have the money.”
I could not agree more. Especially at this time of year, it is so tempting to spend beyond your means, but at some point fiscal responsibility needs to rule the day. Unfortunately, that the request for the additional $135,000 was even made by district officials in the first place while students and parents and teachers are forced to do more with less shows that bureaucracy crosses the lines of ideology, that our public officials’ priorities are all out of whack, and that there is a fundamental inability for those same officials to run a school district, town or nation in the same manner as everyday Americans manage their households.
And, indeed, those tendencies and failings are consistent and prevalent throughout every level of government, from school boards to municipalities on up to the federal government.
For a prime example of the disconnect between public officials at the highest level and those families who come together to assess fiscal priorities at the kitchen table, look no further than the 1924-page, $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill unveiled by Senate Democrats just yesterday. Rather than simply adopting a continuing resolution (a measure designed to provide for the funding of the federal government in the absence of a budget (which, of course, the Democratic Party leadership failed to pass this year, considering the inevitable debate too politically problematic in an election year), Democrats spun together a smorgasbord of irresponsible spending.
Included in the omnibus spending bill is funding necessary to implement portions of ObamaCare, appropriations required to keep Cabinet agencies afloat, and spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Also included in the bill are more than 6,000 earmarks, totaling more than $8 billion. South Dakota Sen. John Thune called on Democrats to “stop this reckless spending,” stating that “the attempt by Democrat leadership to rush through a nearly 2,000-page spending bill in the final days of the lame-duck session ignores the clear will expressed by the voters this past election.” Similarly, Arizona Sen. John McCain called it “a direct betrayal of the majority of voters on November 2 who said ‘stop the earmarking, stop the spending, stop the pork-barrel projects.” Another McCain quote from RedState:
In a speech from the floor of the Senate, McCain blasted the bill, asking is his colleagues if they had been “stricken with amnesia” for appropriating such wild earmarks only weeks after a swift electoral rebuke for Democrats.
“Enough with the spending, enough of mortgaging our children and our grandchildren’s futures. The phenomenon of the Tea Party — taxed enough already — they were against the spending, the earmarking,” McCain, who is looking to force the bill be read in its entirety from the floor of the Senate, said. “What is going on here? Are we tone deaf? Are we stricken with amnesia?”
And, here’s video of McCain’s floor speech. Keep in mind that, fresh off a victory at the polls, this is the time that John McCain usually shows his “maverick” side and starts gallivanting across the aisle. Here, as you’ll see, we see quite the opposite:
McCain’s office counted 6,488 earmarks. Across the Internet, from large sites like Politico to individual Twitter feeds of folks like you and like me who happened to get their hands on a copy of the bill, the most amazingly egregious examples of reckless spending were pointed out for all to see. Some of the examples:
- $80,000,000 for the preservation of Pacific salmon
- $14,000,000 in clean water grants
- $1,000,000 for arthropod damage repair in Nevada
- $522,000 for cranberry and blueberry disease and breeding in New Jersey
- $500,000 for road roundabouts in Mississippi
- $500,000 for oyster safety in Florida
- $413,000 for peanut research in Alabama
- $400,000 for solar parking canopies and plug-in electric stations in Kansas
- $350,000 for cool-season legume research in Idaho, North Dakota and Washington State
- $349,000 for swine waste management in North Carolina
- $277,000 for potato pest management in Wisconsin
- $247,000 for virus-free grapes in Washington State
- $246,000 for bovine tuberculosis treatment in Michigan and Minnesota
- $165,000 for maple syrup research in Vermont
- $125,000 for fishery equipment for the Guam Fisherman’s Cooperative Association
While the $8.3 billion in earmarks is certainly a drop in the ocean when the total amount of appropriations is considered, as mentioned before on this Web site, earmarks are symbolic of much that has gone wrong on Capitol Hill — the self-dealing, the vote-buying, the backroom deals, the refusal to listen to constituents. It is important to remember that any pet project included as an earmark could technically and procedurally receive its own up-or-down vote, specific to the task at hand. Here in South Carolina, for example, plans to dredge Charleston Harbor to a depth of 50+ feet–thus allowing for passage of larger boats and more commerce–are in the works, and while Sen. Lindsey Graham would like to procure funding for such a project through the earmarking process, Sen. Jim DeMint has already voiced his opposition. It’s not that DeMint is against the dredging of the harbor; he’s not. DeMint has instead stated that he feels the project is important enough to receive an up-or-down vote in Washington, standing on its own merits.
It is also important to point out that, while the $8.3 billion in earmarks is certainly less than in previous years, the decrease has nothing to do with Democrats putting a stop to their spendthrift ways. Actually, as the Associated Press points out, the total amount of earmarks included is less only because House Republicans stood fast this time around and did not ask for a single earmark. Even on the Senate side, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has just recently begrudgingly agreed with Sen. DeMint’s proposal to ban earmarks, many of the earmarks attributed to Senate Republicans were originally intended to be taken up earlier in the year as individual appropriations; McConnell and others have said that they intend to hold to the earmark ban starting next year.
I think it was this past spring that I began to worry about the prospect of a lame duck session for this Democratic Party leadership. I saw it as a legislative free-for-all, a shopping and spending and amnesty spree for an embattled and embittered group of failures who no longer had anything to lose. Now, those worries have manifested themselves, and it is time to shut down this Parade of Horribles.
At some point, congressional Republicans have to say that enough is enough when it comes to this current Congress, and take any procedural and substantive steps necessary to ensure that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can do no more damage to the fabric of our nation. Their intent is to countermand the will of the American people, and that intent is perfectly clear in the threats made by Reid to extend the current congressional session into the new year:
Mr. Reid, though, said Congress will stay until he tries to tackle issues he says have been unfairly stalled by the GOP.
“I hate to report all this to you — but you know, there’s still Congress after Christmas,” he told reporters. “So if the Republicans think that because they can stall and stall and stall that we take a break, we’re through, we’re not through.”
Translation: “On November 2, America rejected the agenda put forth by this Congress. However, we care so little about the will of the people we are supposed to represent that we will continue to advance that agenda, in the face of popular opposition and in the face of any and all effort from congressional Republicans on their behalf, for as long as we possibly can.”
Enough is enough. I implore congressional Republicans to do whatever it takes to shut Congress down, and let’s start anew in January. The American people are depending upon those sent to Capitol Hill by this resurgent right to do the right thing and begin governing in the same fashion that everyday folks from coast to coast manage their households and daily lives. Just as I cannot afford that fancy new carry pistol I’ve had my eyes on, just as the Charleston County School District cannot afford $135,000 for new carpeting, the federal government cannot afford to implement ObamaCare, fund two wars, and spend $8 billion on earmarks.
Pass a continuing resolution, shut down Congress, eat some Christmas goose, and start fresh in January. I’ve had enough of this Congress. Send them home already.