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Government Watch / Politics

Where is Overdue Congressional Oversight – on National Debt, Entitlement Reform?

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In popular mythology, as Rome burned in 64 AD, the famously irresponsible emperor Nero “fiddled.” True or not, when time and mission get squandered in crisis, people have a right to know – and to object.  Today, a Democrat-controlled House is doing that.

Put aside the recent battle over four billion dollars and change (5.7 billion request minus 1.6 billion original) in that trillion-dollar bill; the dispute was over four one-thousands of the bill. 

Come forward to late February, 2019.  Before us are real issues demanding oversight.  Federal waste, fraud and abuse is real – and requires leadership.  Numbers are staggering. Federal “improper payments” last year were north of $151 billion, according non-partisan reports.

An old problem, it still demands solving.  Taxpayers pay that $151 billion annually in fraud and negligent payments.  This is a fixable problem, one that Trump and OMB want to solve.  The Democrat-controlled House could make it a priority, share credit for success.   

Imagine, saving enough money to build 26 walls – or barriers – on the southern border, or paying one 10-millionth of the down-payment on the Democrat’s New Green Deal, or giving the money back to taxpayers.  Here is a real subject for government oversight.

Similarly, oversight hearings could be conducted on our swollen Federal debt.  Before calculating maintenance, current entitlement programs consume two-thirds of every tax dollar.  After President Obama’s run-up, our national debt stood at $20 trillion dollars, the result of overspending, and 1.5 percent growth rate over eight years, worst in 12 administrations.

Today, saddled with that debt, President Trump strains to deregulate, keep interest rates low, rebalance budgets and trade, raise employment, wages and year-over-year growth.  He is succeeding, but that hole is deep – worthy of real oversight.  

By sheer resolve, January 2019 enjoyed the highest one-month growth rate in 30 years.  We are seeing spikes in consumer confidence, economic growth, employment, productivity, and wages.  But the United States still faces what is now – a $22 trillion dollar debt.  That works out to more than $67,000 per citizen.  That is unsustainable, and objectively irresponsible.

As entitlements drag at the federal budget, with big spenders creating incalculable intergenerational debt, congressional leaders should be turning into the wind – showing some courage.  But are they ready to talk about how to get entitlement spending under control? No evidence of that. 

Instead, they talk up more spending, cheerfully putting no price-tags on anything – not on expanded spending on Medicare (predicted to skyrocket), not on their Big Green Plan, not on free time and cradle-to-grave everything for everyone.  No oversight hearings on any of this. 

Why not?  Three reasons, of course.  First, much of this accumulated waste accrued under Obama, although George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are not blameless.  No Democrat wants to run numbers in public, proving massive Obama-era over-spending and low growth crippled our future.

Second, as Democrat presidential candidates talk up massive new spending, taxing the rich and following Marxist doctrine into “government control of the means of production,” who in their right mind would mention reforming runaway entitlements?  Hex on any Democrat doing that. 

The kicker is a secret:  No amount of taxing the rich (defined as above perhaps $100,000 annual salary) will ever pay for this exponential growth of national debt and runaway entitlements.  Even before we add in the Medicare-for-all Mirage and Green Dream, resolving this debt is a nightmare.  It will all fall back on the middle class, or turn into hyper-inflation – without debt reduction and entitlement reforms. 

Truth is tough:  Oversight is needed, has been for years, on these two issues – accelerating national debt payment, bloated entitlement programs.  Instead, the donkey in the dooryard is ignored.  Democrats are after “more important” issues.

What are these?  Good of you to ask.  National barn-burners for next week: House Democrats will have “Government Oversight and Reform” hearings on an unwritten, unpublished, hypothetical “Mueller Report” (i.e. why they must see it, and will surely be denied it), then on unfair Trump Administration restrictions on abortions in a rule requiring accountability for Title X  (i.e. as Democrat Virginia Governor, facing racism charges, tries to soft-pedal infanticide), and “Rescheduling Michael Cohen’s Public Testimony” (i.e. a pre-impeachment teaser, tied to hopes the President’s one-time private lawyer will offer salacious words). 

Jump over to the Democrat-controlled House Judiciary Committee.  They are focused on how egregious Trump border policies are, including a “separation policy” identical or less onerous than Obama policies.  Then they will zero on “The National Emergencies Act of 1976.”  With dozens of on-going, multi-year, similarly declared “emergencies” (yes, that is right) – a statutory term of art – Democrats will to focus attention on the President’s wall-building declaration.

In the end, every committee can decide priorities, subject to jurisdictional divisions.  That is reasonable.  Every Chairman can decide whether to solve big problems or ignore them.  They can instead let the moment pass, focusing on politics, just leaving the heavy lifting to future generations.  But so far, leaders in both chambers seem shy about addressing national debt and entitlement reform.  Maybe it is time. 

Responsible leadership is about finding and solving hard problems, not shining bright lights on easy ones – or worse, creating problems for public display and reelection.  Rome may not be burning, but the sound one hears from Washington – especially an impeachment-obsessed House – sounds a lot like fiddling.

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Read more articles by Robert B. Charles

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PaulE

You just answered your own question with the sentence “Responsible leadership is about finding and solving hard problems, not shining bright lights on easy ones – or worse, creating problems for public display and reelection. ” Neither party in Congress wants to highlight the bad past choices made or be seen as “taking something away” from one special interest group or another. Career politicians, by default, tend to gravitate to talking about fiscal policy is very broad, overly simplistic terms. Especially when it comes to discussions involving potentially cutting something or scaling back existing programs. All the while committing to nothing specific along the way. As long as the voting public is willing to tolerate and even encourage such behavior in its elected officials, nothing will change. Oversight and reform only comes about if the vast majority of the public truly demands it and is willing to actually scale back… Read more »

Wylie

What over sight!