Last night, after an obviously quixotic “make a grand but futile gesture” filibuster by Senator Rand Paul that caused a blink-and-you-missed it government “shutdown,” Congress passed a big fat spending increase, one that gave both the Republican and Democratic hogs at the trough their priorities. The two year bill lifted caps on both defense and non-defense spending, to the tune of $300B.

And, as sure as the sunrise, our government’s spend-spend-spend profligacy continues unabated. Conservatives lamented the sequester that has supposedly ravaged our military’s preparedness, and liberals lamented the supposed dearth of money for social programs, disaster relief, and other take-from-A-to-give-to-be pseudo-charity.

Here’s what no one even bothers to mention any more:

Three years ago, a government oversight agency proposed a series of recommendations that would have saved $125B over 5 years. That’s a hell of a lot of money, and it’s just one piece of a broader picture of waste, fraud, profligacy, and irresponsibility in defense spending. Who in their right mind would support giving piles more money to those who are so bad at managing the giant piles they already receive?

But wait, there’s more. According to one report, Medicare, in 2014, reportedly paid out $60B “improperly,” i.e. to waste, fraud, and abuse. Another analysis estimated that 2016 would witness $140B in improper payments out of Medicaid. That’s 12% of the total Medicare/Aid budget, and to call it a shit-ton of money is to have an inadequate imagination.

And, then, there are the useless government expenditure, which are so numerous and often so deeply nested, like Matryoskha dolls, inside bigger appropriations, that even the relatively few genuinely responsible elected officials are reduced to writing waste books that neither find them all nor elicit anything more than a collective shrug from everyone else.

It’s obvious to anyone who bothers to look that the amount of taxpayer money wasted by our government is enough to put a huge dent in the budget deficit, were anyone in charge to actually do something about it.

Why don’t they, is the grand question. The rhetorical question, actually, because we know why. When it comes to spending, politicians and the constituents that vote them into office overwhelmingly want “the other guy’s” spending cut. Their priorities are to be untouched, even when it comes to waste and fraud. Why? Because it would be “unfair” to clean up their sacred cows while those of their opponents got to carry on. And, because that wasted and stolen money goes into pockets that have a vested interest in keeping things as they are, and are not above voting and lobbying to maintain that status quo. And, as well, because some people are more apt to believe that the reports of waste and fraud in their high-priority areas are written by partisans who’ll make stuff up in order to reallocate funding. Thus, reports of food-stamp abuse are written by “heartless Republicans” who want to gut the program and are willing to lie about it.

This is blatant, head-in-the-sand, zero-sum tribalism, and it’s how our nation’s government now “functions,” if we can call it that. Congress’s approval rate over the last decade-plus has hovered around 20%, which means that 4 of 5 Americans disapprove of the job they’re doing, yet incumbents’ re-election rates haven’t dropped below 85% in most of our lifetimes. Apologists and scolds will blame this on things like gerrymandering, but gerrymandering is itself a response to the aforementioned tribalism, where 2/3 of voters are pure loyalists, voting for whomever “their” party nominates. Excuses for that are profuse, and typically take the form of “the other side is worse.” But, if a vote is a sure thing for a party, why would the party do anything to earn that vote? The parties don’t. What they do instead is feed those that get them what they need i.e. the various things that get their people elected and re-elected. And, those that get fed are rarely small government and less-spending types. Even among those who purport to want less spending, the arguments inevitably arise for either not touching or spending more on their priorities. No matter that there’s plenty to be gained simply by spending better.

So, what’s an actual small-government person to do? To whom should he turn? The GOP has done a good job of selling itself as the party of smaller government, despite its obvious track record to the contrary. If it were honest, it might tout itself as the party of “slightly-less-metastatic-profligacy” in comparison to the Democrats, whose only pretense to spending cuts is so that they can pour more into their preferred hog-troughs.

Yes, there are politicians, like Senator Paul, who call attention to the government’s rapacity, even when it stems from their own party, but they are few, far between, and effectively ignorable by the party leaders and broader membership. Sadly, those few voices serve to add a veneer of legitimacy to the GOP’s farcical posture as the party of responsible government. I can’t fault Paul, Massie, Amash, and the others for that – they’re doing what they’ve promised to do, and perhaps some day their efforts will raise awareness enough for the voters to actually demand government get its house in order.

For now, we can only despair at yet another betrayal of responsibility by those who control such a huge chunk of our lives.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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