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What is Washington doing with our money? This is one of the most basic – and important – questions that folks have asked me since I have been in Congress. It’s also one of the most difficult to answer.
Of course, we always hear a lot of quick answers: “They’re wasting it!” or “They’re throwing it away on earmarks!” or “They’re giving it away to other countries.” And to a certain extent, every one of those statements is true.
But those explanations don’t come close to telling the whole story. That’s because the federal government has gotten so big that it literally spends more money than any person can comprehend.
Consider this, if you were to spend a million dollars every single day – from the birth of Christ until today – you still would not have spent $1 trillion. (In fact, you would still have almost $300 billion left over.) This year, the federal government will spend about $1 trillion every 120 days.
More discouragingly, the country has 14 times that amount in national debt. It’s an absolutely obscene amount of money. But this still doesn’t explain what the government is doing with all the money. It only explains how much money is being spent.
To explain where all the money is going, it’s easier to start the conversation if you take the numbers down to something that makes more sense. For example, if our nation was just one family, then, as a family, we made around $43,000 last year. But we spent $69,000. That means we had to put $26,000 on the credit card. And the big problem with the credit card is this: Its balance is $284,000.
Using that example, if Washington were to save all the money that was wasted last year (wouldn’t that be nice!) out of next year’s budget, we would save about $1,300. That’s nothing to turn your nose up at, but it’s a far cry from the $26,000 we need to save for a balanced budget.
How about all the earmarks?
Suppose we were to eliminate all funding for earmarks – something else I completely agree with. Some reports estimate that Congress spent $16.5 billion on earmarks last year. That saves us $330 out of the family budget example. Still a long, long way to go before we make up the $26,000 that we borrowed.
As for all the money we give away to other countries: Using our family budget example, eliminating all foreign aid would only save us about $920.
But my favorite example is the $35 million that Congress cut from our own budgets this year. Yes, it was a 5 percent cut for us, and it is important to lead by example, but that $35 million represents less than one dollar out of the $26,000 we need to save.
So right now, after taking out all waste, earmarks and foreign assistance, we have cut the amount we borrowed down from $26,000 to about $23,449.
As you can see, digging ourselves out of this spending hole will not be easy.
Both parties like to talk about saving taxpayer dollars, but when it comes down to actually reducing what we’ve been borrowing, the quick fixes that are thrown around don’t even come close. The fact is that we are past the point of just saying no to bad programs and wasteful spending. At this point, we have to say no to some good programs, too. In fact, we probably have to start saying no to everything, at least a little.
People deserve to know the whole truth about what Congress is doing with our money. That’s why I am hosting “Spending, Debt and Deficits” town halls all across the 5th District.
The first of these town halls was March 24 in Lancaster, and it went exceptionally well. If you couldn’t make it, I hope you can come out to one of the next three meetings and join our discussion on balancing the budget:
u Monday, April 18: Town Hall in Darlington – 6:30-8 p.m. at Florence-Darlington Technical College (Fred C. Fore Auditorium in the 400 Building), 2715 W. Lucas St., Florence
u April 27: Town Hall in Rock Hill – 6:30-8 p.m. at Baxter M. Hood Center (Barnes Room), 452 S. Anderson Road, Rock Hill
u April 28: Town Hall in Camden – 6:30-8 p.m. in council chambers at the Kershaw County Government Center, 515 Walnut St., Camden
And there will be more throughout the spring, because we can’t have meaningful conversations about how to fix things until folks understand the truth about where we stand as a country.