We Can Think of 535 Ways to Cut Government Spending

by David T. Bruce

House Speaker Boehner tells us that it is “time to focus on the real problem here in Washington and that is spending.” We couldn’t agree more, Mr. Boehner. How we disagree, however, as do a great many Americans, is how spending should be reduced.

education_deathThis sequester will force federal job cuts in the hundreds of thousands, affecting civilians and military alike. Education in America will further erode, as children will be cut from Head Start programs and teachers and aides will lose their jobs. The mentally ill, the disabled and the elderly will also be impacted, as funds for health and food services will be eliminated or reduced. Are these truly the people and services that are a priority in terms of cutting the federal deficit?

Those most affected are those that are already reeling from an economy that has never quite recovered from the Great Recession, except in the eyes (and the coffers) of those who work on Wall Street. Those most affected are those who already have little or nothing, who have been literally dealt a poor hand.

Doug Bandow, a contributor to Forbes.com, illustrated a variety of ways that our government is wasting money:

 “The Department of State used $306,000 to bring European college students to America to learn civic activism” (we need an exchange program for this one).

“Columbia University collected $606,000 for a study of online dating” (perverts).

“The federal government cut a check for $550,000 to underwrite a documentary on the impact of rock and roll on the collapse of communism” (hell, if that worked, I can think of another government at whom we could sling our guitars).

“A federal grant for $765,828 went to [. . .] bring an International House of Pancakes franchise to Washington, D.C.” (this requires no punch line).

Instead of wasting millions of dollars (which quickly adds up to billions) on discretionary and frivolous spending, why don’t you try balancing the budget (we call it penny pinching in the real world) without passing the buck(s) to the rest of us, asking us to pay for your ill-considered spending?

Instead of pointing fingers at one another, ask yourself what good you have done recently for your constituents and for your country that didn’t somehow benefit you. Instead of chiding or punishing the poorest of Americans (by eliminating support programs) who you believe have made poor decisions that have lead them to fiscal ruin, clean up your own act and demand the same from government employees who are sending billions of dollars in improper payments and overpayments out the door.

We cannot be the only ones sick and tired of the endless bickering that occurs on Capitol Hill. The only time our representatives take a break from throwing stones at one another is when they need time to rebuild their forts, preparing for yet another election year. While our elected representatives engage in yet another pissing contest, the working men and women whom they are elected to serve (those fortunate enough to still have jobs, that is), further struggle to make ends meet in the land of the American nightmare that is politics as usual.

The United States Government – A Burden on Society

by David T. Bruce

A recent article from the Associated Press asks the question: Is it the responsibility of the government to fix the economy? Presidential candidate hopefuls maintain that if the federal government steps back, “[t]he economy will thrive.” If the government would learn how to balance a budget and manage its own spending, we could argue that we would not be suffering the crisis that we are today.  As much as the majority of the Republican Party would like to deny association with the constituents they so proudly embrace every two to four years, our government and the people are intertwined.

If people are employed and prospering financially, then the government does well. This can be measured by an increase in spending and a subsequent increase in tax revenue. We recently had a brief reminder of what might happen were the government to shut down: military veterans and social security recipients may not receive benefits, and many federal employees may find themselves temporarily unemployed. We rely on the government, and the government relies on the populace. As is asked in the AP analysis, “[w]hat is the right balance?”

When debating about balancing the budget, the question is not whether or not our nation has money. The question is what to do with the money we have. We obviously have money enough to engage in at least two (arguably three) land conflicts. An analysis by Chris Hellman illustrates that the funds requested for nuclear weapons in 2007 surpassed “the average amount spent by the Pentagon during the Cold War, for a military that is one-third smaller than it was just over a decade ago.” Bill Boyarsky points out in his study that “the total bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, according to CostofWar.com, is now $1.24 trillion.” Adding the cost of movements in Pakistan, the cost to Americans for these conflicts will total between $3.2 trillion and $4 trillion. We have enough money to wage war perpetually.

We also have money enough to bail out businesses that fail in their professional and fiduciary responsibilities. Bailout figures show that $2.7 billion was spent in 2009, while $445 billion was spent in 2007 and $1.7 trillion was spent in 2008 under Republicans. These numbers and the numbers illustrating expenditures on military endeavors over the past several years demonstrate that the government does not want to give money to help the voting constituents they feign to adore. They do, however, want to provide money in abundance to the big companies, thereby securing the votes for which they truly care.

When our elected officials gather together to balance the budget, a gesture on their part to balance how these billions and trillions of dollars are allocated would be a step towards truly appreciating those people who are the foundation of America. Certainly, there are those people (of the smallest minority) that make bad decisions and choose to live solely under the umbrella of services that local and federal governments provide. The majority, however, are suffering as the result of bad decisions made by our elected officials.

Is it the responsibility of these officials to fix the economy? Yes! They screwed it up!

I am tired of the government reneging on what they think citizens are not entitled to, while they give companies trillions of dollars in entitlements, rewards for making bad choices.  I think many Americans feel the same way.  As citizens of this country, we are expected to manage our affairs in such a way that we do not become a burden on society. This election year, and every election year from now on, our mandate to Capitol Hill must be that our elected officials keep their houses in order.

Judging from what we are witnessing, they are the burden on our society.

Enough is enough. Stop bickering. Start doing your jobs. Fix your mess. Fix the economy. Step down from your pedestals and podiums and get your hands dirty. This is not about you and the next election. This is about today, and this is about the future of our country.

In the War Against Taxes, Your Neighbor Is Not Your Enemy

by David Bruce

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Source: Adbusters

Ever-embroiled in debate, members of Congress are now in dispute over how to avoid financial default.  Most of us who live in the United States and work for a living to support ourselves and our families have some idea how to balance our budget and how to avoid financial distress.  Our elected representatives, however, show little sign of fiscal competence or moral demeanor, as they publicly and shamelessly deliberate on the best approach for avoiding a situation that will largely affect the elderly and disabled citizens of our country.  Additionally, should our government default, we more-than-likely would endure increased interest rates, and government employees would suffer delays in pay.  Regardless of income-level, individual taxpayers would be adversely affected.  Conversely, our government and largest corporations would continue operating in such a way that they would benefit to some degree, regardless of the political or economic fallout.

Should our government default, a worst-case scenario illustrates that government employees (including service members) and social security recipients would sacrifice timely receipt of their paychecks.  Major corporations would make attempts to recoup any losses by raising interest rates on credit cards, mortgages, and other loans.  Would these large businesses be deprived of anything?  Indeed, the ledgers may initially reflect a less-than-profitable quarter: nothing that a government bailout wouldn’t resolve.  The American public does not merit a bailout, though, even with an election on the horizon.  The major corporations are the darlings of both Democratic and Republican parties.

A list of ten companies was recently compiled that illustrates the overbearing tax burden suffered by large businesses in America.  Of course, the buzz about the earnings and refunds for General Electric has made headlines across the Internet.  Also worth mentioning, however, is the recent tax refund of $1.9 billion that Bank of America received in addition to their $4.4 billion in profit.  This is also a company that profited from the aforementioned bailout.  In 2008 Goldman Sachs paid income taxes measuring 1.1 percent of its income.  In 2010 Citigroup paid no federal income tax, yet they generated in excess of $4 billion dollars of income (let us not overlook the bailout monies).  In 2009 Exxon Mobile paid no income taxes against profits of $19 billion.  Additional evidence is easy to access.

The families surviving on wages that are considered to be poverty-level and not paying federal income tax are not the criminals.  The well-to-do families who have benefited from hard work, raising their standard of living significantly are not the criminals.  Yet these two demographics are pitted against one another, tools in the political mêlée waged by each and every one of our elected representatives.  Individual American taxpayers in the lowest 20% tax bracket and individual American taxpayers in the highest 20% tax bracket are positioned as bitter rivals in this Congressional conflict.  The poorest Americans pay little or no federal taxes, and the wealthiest Americans pay the largest percentage.  While the former would most likely switch places with the latter without argument or hesitation, and while the latter certainly has a valid argument against further tax increases against money that have rightfully earned, the fact remains that the real criminals are on Wall Street and Capital Hill.

An article in the Tucson Citizen pointed out that in 2010 individual income tax accounted for 42% of total revenue, while corporate income tax accounted for a mere 9% of total revenue. From outward appearances, this is what and who our representatives are fighting for.   In a Christian Science Monitor article, calculations demonstrate that tax breaks are worth about $1,000 to a typical family earning about $21,000 or less, augmenting their after-tax income by 9 percent. Middle income families earning between $40,000 and $70,000 receive an average of about $4,000, increasing their after-tax incomes by about 8 percent.  For those in the top 1 percent, tax breaks allow those wage-earners to increase their after-tax incomes by more than 20 percent.  According to this research, the highest-income 20 percent enjoy almost two-thirds of the benefits of tax expenditures. More than one-quarter of tax breaks are allotted to the top 1 percent alone.

The issue is not whether or not taxes should be raised or for whom taxes should be raised.  The issue is the major loopholes that exist permitting major companies to bring their tax liability to a percentage lower than that of the average working American.  The issue is our elected representatives who represent the interests of these companies and their own self-interests.  These issues will not resolve themselves.  The majority of our representatives do not care about us as people.  They do not care how we live, if we live, or how we die.  They want our vote.  They have taken virtually everything else from us; do not give them a vote they have not earned.

Your enemy is not your neighbor.

Fiscal Responsibility – A Lost Art

by Shadra Bruce

debt-1376061_1280When Dave’s corporate job was lost through downsizing and reorganization in 2004, we decided together that corporate America wasn’t the right fit for him. When my “atrocious boss” (as our kids like to call him) threatened to fire me for using my own earned sick leave to care for our ill children in 2007, I joined my husband in corporate refugee status. We’ve never been happier.

We both went back to school, earned degrees, and made plans for a new future.  Dave was going to teach and I was going to start my own freelance writing business. Dave is now certified to teach and substitute teaches for the local school because there are no full-time teaching jobs. I am successfully building a small writing, editing, and social media consulting business, and our two incomes adequately support us.

We do, however, live frugally by choice and by circumstance. When there’s money to spare because I’ve had a good month, we first pay off a little more of our debt. If there’s still some left, we travel, spoil our kids, or sneak in a date night. When money is tight, we don’t get to write a new rule that says we can increase our debt limit, nor do we write bad checks that the bank has to cash. Like most American families, we simply tighten the belt and do without.

Our federal government could take a few lessons on survival in the real world, from this example and that of thousands of other Americans who have made similar strides and sacrifices. You see, when others talk about “tightening up the budget,” they suggest things like “only get your hair done every 8 weeks instead of every six and you’ll save $500 a year” or “Take a brown bag lunch to work twice a week instead of eating out and save $800 a year.”

We already live more frugally than that, as do many families. When someone needs a hair cut in our household, they climb up on a stool in the kitchen, and I take care of it. We don’t eat out even once a week, let alone daily, as is the custom for many elected officials. It is possible to live with one vehicle or no vehicle at all, and if we can walk to the store or post office instead of drive to it, we should.  Many Americans live without the perks that are afforded to those people we have elected to govern and enforce our laws.  Our government, of course, doesn’t run that way.   Now if we don’t raise the debt ceiling, who will be hurt? The aged and disabled people who will not get their Social Security checks, mostly.

But this isn’t about raising the debt ceiling; it’s about stopping the special interests and corporations that have transformed Congress into personal bankers.  In the short term, we’re going to have to raise the debt ceiling or face even worse economic trauma. But in the long-term, America (at the individual level and the national level) needs to learn not just to live within a budget but to prioritize things other than their own special interests.

Big Oil Subsidies Squeeze the Middle Class

by David T. Bruce

oil_earthIn a recent Congressional debate, the majority of Republicans argued that the five largest oil companies were entitled to a $2 billion annual subsidy to offset the $35 billion they earned (?) in the first quarter of 2011.  One particular senator sarcastically stated that making money in America must now be unacceptable, specifically targeting the Democrats’ proposal to eliminate these subsidies.

According to a recent article in The Washington Times, wages in America are up 1.7%, whereas the rate of inflation is up 2%.  Statistically, households with the lowest income in the United States spend approximately twice as much on food, relatively speaking, as households with the highest income.  Obviously, the dramatic increase in the cost of fuel limits the spending power of the average American.  It is estimated that the tax cuts recently approved by Congress will be absorbed by the increased cost of gasoline.  Yes, apparently making money in America is indeed no longer acceptable . . . unless you live and work on Capitol Hill or unless you are a CEO or COO of the aforementioned oil companies.

Recent polls show that public opinion in favor of Congress is significantly low.  According to recent Gallup polls, Congress has achieved an approval rating as low as 13% over the past year.  If this is indeed the case, then perhaps as a society, we should consider placing more emphasis on the state representatives we elect and less emphasis on the executive office that is often provided with speed bumps and road blocks by the opposing party anyway.  We must give careful consideration and close scrutiny to those people we elect at the state level, who are charged to represent the interest of their constituents.  Right now, many representatives seem to represent only the interests of the oil companies (and other major industries) and by extension their own individual interests, forsaking the interests of those that elected them to office. For example: the only three Democrats to side with the Republicans in the Oil Subsidy vote were from Louisiana, Nebraska, and Alaska, all big oil states.

The greater majority of the voting public has not made a substantial living in years.  While our government bails out the banking industry and subsidizes the oil industry, that which is left of the middle class struggles daily to raise a family and support their communities, as they slowly merge with the lower class.  How can the majority of Republicans dare to compare the plight of the average American with that of the incomparable benefits that the corporate giants enjoy with the blessings of Congress?

In fairness to Congress, we as a society share a measure of responsibility in creating this dependence on fuel.  Many Americans insist on the value of SUVs, 4X4 pickup trucks, and similar gas-guzzling automotive apparatuses.  We are not sending the message that we care about fuel consumption, fuel waste, or the environment.  We continue to put money into the coffers of the oil industry instead of alternative energy sources.  We continue to pursue off-shore drilling instead of cultivating wind farms or solar power.  We can respond to the oil companies by supporting alternate energy options, and we can respond to our representatives by sending them home.  Maybe then they will understand what it really means to not make money in America.