by Michael Maharrey

It looks like Congress managed cobble together a budget deal that will fund government for the rest of the fiscal year.

At the last minute, lawmakers passed a short-term spending measure to fund the behemoth for another week, after substantively agreeing on a budget bill for the rest of the year.

Good work! That only took half of the year.

The proposed budget snips off about $38 billion in spending.

Lawmakers patted themselves on the back, calling themselves “courageous” for agreeing to the “biggest cuts in history.”

“Both sides have had to make tough choices.  But tough choices is what this job’s all about,” Sen. Harry Reid said.

Truth is, Congress just kicked the can down the road a little further and put off making any actual tough decisions until the next time around. They couldn’t even agree to defund Planned Parenthood, a no-brainer when you’re functionally broke.

And herein lies the problem – our so-called leaders can’t bring themselves to behave as if a problem actually exists. Few politicians have the guts to take the kind of action any half-witted family takes when faced with the prospect of spending more money that it takes in.

Here’s a little perspective.

According to the Treasury Department, the federal government spent $1.0528 trillion during the month of March – that’s trillion with a T – a staggering eight times more than it took in.

That’s like a family netting $2,000 per month spending $16, 000. It doesn’t take an accountant to figure out that kind of overspending represents a significant problem. Heck, you don’t even need to stay at a Holiday Inn Express to comprehend the looming fiscal disaster.

Clearly, that kind of deficit requires a significant change in spending; the kind of change in spending that hurts. The family can’t just switch from ordering steak to ordering salad at the nice restaurant. It must quit going to restaurants. Any restaurants. Period.

But lawmakers – indeed many Americans – can’t even bring themselves to make superfluous cuts in spending.

That’s because when it comes time to actually wield the budget axe, everybody suddenly believes their program “vital.”

Take the press release issued on behalf of the Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery in Kentucky. The president’s budget planned proposed eliminating funding for the National Fish Hatcheries. The Wolf Creek hatchery operates on an annual budget of about $907,000 of federal tax dollars every year.

“This would be a needless monumental loss to the county and state,” Jeanie Schureman said in the release.

She goes on to justify the existence of the fish hatchery program, pointing out its income generation.

“A return of more than $53 for every tax dollar spent to operate the hatchery,” Schureman said.

She needs an economics lesson.

The fact that fish hatcheries need a tax subsidy to operate proves them an inefficient allocation of resources. If fish hatcheries really constituted a money-making opportunity, an enterprising private individual or entity would undoubtedly step in. That $907,000 dollars actually represents capital diverted from more economically viable activities to hatching fish. While it may create $53 for every dollar spent, that dollar spent in a market driven activity would undoubtedly yield far more.

Not to say fish hatching doesn’t benefit somebody. Perhaps many somebodies. But all too often, we only look at the visible benefits and fail to consider the less easily recognizable costs of government programs. While certain segments of the population reap the rewards, the nation as a whole loses out.

The reapers call the programs “vital.” The general public buys into the sob story. And the government keeps on spending. And spending. And spending.

Economic realities aside, a bigger issue exists.

Vital or not, the federal government lacks the constitutional authority to fund fish hatcheries.

In fact, the federal government lacks the constitutional authority to fund a vast majority of the things it funds. The framers intended the states to retain authority on such internal policies.

James Madison wrote, “The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement and prosperity of the State.”

If Kentuckians really believe fish hatcheries vital, the state can set that priority and fund them. And some poor schmuck in Texas doesn’t have to bear the cost.

The federal government dug its fiscal hole with a backhoe powered by constitutional usurpation. The path back lies in limiting the fed to its constitutionally prescribed role.

This will require pain, sacrifice and time. We didn’t dig the hole in a day. It took over 75 years of ever-expanding government. It will require that Americans reject the notion that federal spending is “vital.” And it will require us to shed the notion that the solution to every problem lies among the marbled monuments in Washington D.C.

The stark reality is that the United States is functionally bankrupt. While we may like our various federally funded programs, and we may even personally reap the benefits, we can’t afford them.

We never could.

That’s why the framers sought to limit the power of the federal government. They understood bigger is generally badder.

It’s time to shrink the behemoth.

Mike Maharrey

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