D.C. CALLIOPE WHEEZES ALONG — TO NO GOOD END
Iread the other day that the Kansas City area won a big federal grant — $50 million dollars in transportation money for sidewalks, bus lines and a few other items. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to town to announce the deal. “You ought to be mighty proud here today,” he said in a public appearance. I sat at my kitchen table looking at his picture. Normally, this sort of thing floats by like so much political elevator music. Politicians, using our money to buff their image. People gripe about it and the arguments have been made for decades, but the music plays on: Look what we’ve done for ya, folks. Here’s some cash. Aren’t we swell? But these days, the music has become grating. It was the sidewalks that stuck in my mind. OK, I guess that would be a “shovel-ready” project. But when that phrase became current, I naturally assumed that what they had in mind were big highway projects and the like that would improve mobility and economic efficiency, and build up the nation’s capital stock. But sidewalks? It’s a bit deflating. Then you think: The government went into debt, to fix sidewalks in Kansas City? And when did fixing our sidewalks become a federal responsibility? I looked at LaHood again, standing there with two of our area congressmen, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri and Rep. Dennis Moore of Kansas. Those three are old hands. I’m sure they sense that the rules are changing, and fast. The old way — the old music — isn’t likely to generate the same degree of positive political feedback. The old tunes are playing in a radically changed financial context. As long as I have followed politics and the markets, I can’t remember a time when people speculated openly about a possible debt default by the U.S. government. Yet that’s what’s going on. You think, good grief. This can’t happen. If everything goes south, they’ll run the printing press but we won’t default. Nevertheless, the cost of insuring against a default by the U.S. government has been going up. This is a signal in the markets, and not a good one. You can’t pick up a paper or boot up a computer without running across signs that fiscally, Washington has slipped its moorings. Under the latest Obama budget, the national debt will double by 2020. Servicing that debt will cost $800 billion a year. Stimulus money — it was supposed to be “temporary, targeted and timely,” remember? — will be streaming out of the Treasury for nine more years. Most of that won’t go for “sho- vel-ready” projects. It’s going to state governments and individuals. A lot of government workers will benefit, but the stimulus package offered little or nothing to boost economic growth. It didn’t do much to encourage people running businesses to hire more workers, because it didn’t change incentives. I’ve criticized the Obama administration’s financial profligacy before, and I always hear from people saying, Oh, go stuff it. What about Bush? Point taken. He was no fiscal conservative. But until the economy tanked in 2008, the deficit as a percentage of GDP was steadily shrinking, until it was only 1.2 percent of GDP. Obama’s spending has taken the deficit from worrisome to frightening. Nor is it a strictly financial matter. In The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan wondered whether, with our dependence on borrowing, we’ll be able to afford a robust defense. “If China owns enough of your paper, does it also own some of your foreign policy? Do we want to find out?” In the last few days, we’ve heard about the danger of a debt default by Greece, and the risk that Greece might trigger other defaults by weaker members of the European Union. We’re not so different. Greece and the others are just a few more stops down the same road. We, too, have a massive welfare state and a tax base too small to support it. A turning point has been reached, evident in the overwhelming voter rejection of ObamaCare and the rise of the Tea Party. More voters are fed up with politicians who casually spray our money everywhere and whose only approach to national problems is more regulation, ballooning entitlements, higher taxes and more debt. It’s not clear what will take its place, but a lot of people are thinking the same old music has played far too long. To reach E. Thomas McClanahan, call 816-234-4480 or send e-mail to email@example.com.
Accompanied by Reps. Emanuel Cleaver and Dennis Moore, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced a $50 million grant from the federal government.