A realistic solution to the federal budget problem which makes it dead on arrival
by Ed Mattson
I received an email this week that adds to many of the things about which I have been writing about this past year. What caught my attention was the Quote of the Day at the start of the letter:
“The U.S. should stop garrisoning the globe, subsidizing rich friends, and reconstructing poor enemies. Instead, it’s about time Washington focused on defending America and its people.” – Doug Bandow, former Reagan administration member in regards to the federal budget.
For the average American on the street, most are totally out of touch with reality when it comes to the federal budget. The numbers are so large today as to have absolutely no meaning to most. Even the news media gets mixed up when discussing the budget, often confusing trillions for billions and billions for millions…it’s just too hard to keep it all straight…and the numbers being so large.
The Federal Budget and the out-of-control spending in Washington is the fuel behind our nation’s launch to financial collapse. The Democrats feel there is no problem with a $16 trillion debt (that’s $16,000,000,000,000), while the Republicans are afraid of voter backlash to do anything really meaningful about putting the brakes on. With $114,000,000,000,000 in UNFUNDED mandates at this point accrued by the government so far in pensions, guarantees and the likes, we are looking at $3.8 million in debt for every man, woman, and child in the United States. To the unborn, this is criminal.
For decades the U.S. has been the defender of liberty all over the world. As history has shown, by not taking an active role when two or more countries reach a political impasse in solving their differences, the resulting conflict often becomes far greater than anyone imagined…World War I and World War II being prime examples. The sooner steps are taken by other countries to try to help resolve issues the less likely there is to be war. Unfortunately, many countries are reluctant to intercede, and some countries might even try to stoke the fires of war for political gain.
Before getting back to Doug’s email, for a real education please listen to Danial Hannan “speech of the decade“. Mr. Hannan is a writer, journalist, and a conservative member of the English Parliament since 1999
Getting back to Doug’s observation, most would have to agree that being the “global cop” is no longer affordable on our mounting federal budget, the risk of life our brave troops so willing put on the line in event after event, and it has become obvious the European Socialist leaning governments, which are very short on defense spending, must now step to the plate and fend for themselves. Unfortunately, as the US marches blindly into the failed economic policies of Western Europe, those same countries shake their collective heads in disbelief as they seek to divest themselves from their failed and unaffordable socialist programs. It become the old adage (from those of us who weathered economics 101), the choice becomes a choice of “guns or butter”.
The original purpose of the United Nations was to be a forum where differences between nations could be heard and problems resolved without war. Like most plans of the UN, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. They only look good on paper, but unable to be carried out…serving instead to be nothing more than political arena that simply cannot be the problem solver originally envisioned. In short, it is all politics with no enforcement power and no resolve, like a dog without teeth.
To show you to futility of the UN, The Human Rights Council within the United Nations is an inter-governmental body system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe. To the “limp-wristed” governments of the world, there is no concern over the memberships of the People’s Republic of China, Zimbabwe, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, and the past memberships of Algeria, Syria, Libya, Uganda and Vietnam on the Commission. These countries had extensive records of human rights violations, and one concern was that by working against resolutions on the commission condemning human rights violations, they indirectly promoted despotism and domestic repression. Many of the so-called council members treat women as second class citizens and promote sexual exploitation of children. Many of the exploited children are from Benin and Togo, and are sold into the domestic, agricultural, and sex industries of wealthier, neighboring countries such as Nigeria and Gabon. They are powerless to prevent it.
One of the more recent examples of UN impotence is the Bosnian War. Because of its central geographic position within the Yugoslavian Federation, Bosnia became the base for the development of the military defense industry. This contributed to a large concentration of arms and military personnel in Bosnia; a significant factor in the Bosnian War that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.However, Bosnia’s existence within Yugoslavia, for the large part, was peaceful and prosperous. Though considered a political backwater of the federation for much of the 1950’s and 1960’s, in early 1970 a strong Bosnian political elite arose, fueled in part by Tito’s leadership in the Non-Aligned Movement and Bosnians serving in Yugoslavia’s diplomatic corps.
While working within the communist system, politicians reinforced and protected the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their efforts proved key during the turbulent period following Tito’s death in 1980, and are today considered some of the early steps towards Bosnian independence. However, the republic did not escape the increasingly nationalistic climate of the time. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the start of the break-up of Yugoslavia, the old communist doctrine of tolerance began to lose its potency, creating an opportunity for nationalist elements in the society to spread their influence and ethnic cleansing broke out to settle century old grievances.
Among the Serbs, Bosnians, and Croats, who had lived, married, and created families together under the restrictive iron fist of the Soviet Union, when Yugoslavia gained its independence as the Soviet Union dissolve, the animal instincts of the competing ethnicities tore the country apart. Wholesale slaughter of families, the burning down of homes, towns and villages, the savagery went on unabated as the UN and its strongest proponents, the Western European members, sat by and watched. Discussion after discussion, debate after debate in the UN went on and on with never a consensus being reached to intercede. It was typical “all talk and no action” while the atrocities continued taking its toll in hundreds of thousands of wounded and dead, and millions of families displaced.
It wasn’t until the United States, under President Clinton, decided we could not stand by and watch the loss of innocence of the women, children and those who had survived the atrocities of World War II. It was America that pushed NATO into action, and American blood that was placed on the line to finally bring major hostilities to an end…the “global cop” in action. After three and a half years of fighting, the Dayton Peace Accord was signed in Paris, France, on December 14, 1995. Though the peace was shaky at best, it was then that the UN jumped in to talk about holding those responsible for war crimes and ethnic cleansing accountable. Here we are 17 years later still in the midst of War Crime trials, with many still evading justice.
Continued U.S. involvement in the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina hinges on whether the former Yugoslavian region continues to bring war criminals to the War Tribunal that was established by the Dayton Peace Accords of 1995. Thus far, the former Yugoslavia has largely failed at doing that. Again, form over substance. The surviving independent, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and Serbia countries that have prevailed with their religious elements of Islamic, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Bosniaks (Sunni Muslim) in constant tension, it has been much left to US aid that keeps the peace. More than half the region’s citizens live below the poverty level.
What is needed is an effective overseeing body with real teeth and participating countries willing to be ACTIVE participants in keeping the peace. I don’t believe that is possible in this era of political correctness, with failing and bloated government budgets producing too much butter and not effectively managing the guns part of the economic equation. Small regional conflicts must be met and dealt with before they balloon into major wars which drag other countries into the fray. Therefore we have no alternative than to be the biggest baddest guy on the block.
So while our goal should be to lower our massive defense budget which is just under one-half of all the other countries combined (43%), I can only seeing it happen through more effective management means and through cost efficiencies. They problem however is with the way our government handles it’s accounting, the gloried tribute to the industrial complex and the excessive number of post military lobbying and consulting jobs for the military hierarchy, and the inability to make meaningful budget reductions.
In all government departments “baseline budgeting” is the culprit. Baseline budgeting is that which automatically increases government spending to match inflation and “anticipated additional, planned for expenses”, rather than baseline budgeting which puts every budget up for review every year. Baseline budgeting has created an out-of-control juggernaut that has us headed over a cliff.
As our largest budget item, defense spending does not have to be uncontrollable, nor should the other government departments be allowed to race us along to bankruptcy. A very simple program that would be the least painful (and that probably would be deemed prohibitive to any politician seeking re-election by handing out goodies to the voting public) is to:
- Freeze government new hires
- No government “re-hires” to fill vacancies of those who retire, quit, or die, until we reach 2008 government employment levels.
- Impose at four-year freeze on government salaries with the exception of the US military which would receive cost of living increases. As federal employees earn far more than their private sector counterparts (see note below)
- Only allow costing of living wages for government employees after their salaries come into line with private sector employment.
- Department budgets should be frozen with no increases, not even cost of living for a period of four years at which time the ONLY allowable increase in department budget increases would be for cost of living.
- The cost of newly implement budget items would have to be off-set with cuts in existing programs, most notably in the programs the new programs replace or improve.
- These rules would apply to all government departments and agencies.
- All Czars would be forbidden and only Senate approved personnel would be allowed to serve in such capacities though not exceeding these new salary guidelines.
- White House staffing for the First Lady and President would be severely curtailed to the 1995 level Presidency (Bush the Elder), which was involved in international conflicts and should typify a normal Presidential and First Lady need.
Closing budget notes of importance:
With projections of huge federal deficits for years to come, policymakers should scour the budget looking for places to cut spending. One area to find savings is the generous compensation paid to the federal government’s 2.1 million civilian workers. Total wages and benefits paid to executive branch civilians amounted to $236 billion in 2011, indicating that compensation is a major federal expense that can be trimmed.
During the last decade, compensation of federal employees rose much faster than compensation of private-sector employees. As a consequence, the average federal civilian worker now earns twice as much in wages and benefits as the average worker in the U.S. private sector.3 A recent job-to-job comparison found that federal workers earned higher wages than did private-sector workers in four-fifths of the occupations examined.
The federal workforce has become an elite island of secure and high-paid workers, separated from the ocean of average American workers competing in the global economy. It is time for some restraint. Federal wages should be frozen or cut, overly generous federal benefits should be overhauled, and the federal workforce downsized through program terminations and privatization. It is unfair to ask taxpayers to foot an ever-increasing bill for federal workers, especially when private-sector compensation has not kept pace.
In 2010 the average federal salary was $83,679 while the private sector $51,986. When taking into account the retirement and health benefit package there is even greater disparity with federal levels averaging $126,142 and private sector at $62,757…less than ½ their federal counterpart…need anymore be said?
Following his service in the Marine Corps Ed Mattson built a diverse career in business in both sales/marketing and management. He is a medical research specialist and published author. His latest book is Down on Main Street: Searching for American Exceptionalism
Ed is currently Development Director of the National Guard Bureau of International Affairs-State Partnership Program, Fundraising Coordinator for the Warrior2Citizen Project, and Managing Partner of Center-Point Consultants in North Carolina.
Mr. Mattson is a noted speaker and has addressed more than 3000 audiences in 42 states and 5 foreign countries. He has been awarded the Order of the Sword by American Cancer Society, is a Rotarian Paul Harris Fellow and appeared on more than 15 radio and television talk-shows.