Where is Nelson Mandela when we need him?
In an especially memorable moment in Clint Eastwood’s fine new film Invictus, South Africa’s first black president (exquisitely portrayed by Morgan Freeman) inspects his first official paycheck.
“This is terrible,” Mandela says. He decides he earns too much money and subsequently donates a third of his salary to charity. Thus was born the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.
Mandela’s humility and fiscal restraint would be as exotic in the nation’s capital as a giraffe atop the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Washington, D.C.’s lavish self-aggrandizement and relentless march toward bankruptcy cruelly mock Mandela’s noble sacrifice.
Today’s thoughtless and corrosive spend-o-rama began under a Republican Congress and the feckless Bush-Rove administration. Despite candidate Barack Obama’s promise to scour the budget “line by line” for excess, today’s White House and Democratic Congress briskly outspend their predecessors.
In stunning contrast to Mandela’s example, the profligate Congress carpet-bombs taxpayer dollars on greedy federal bureaucrats — even as Americans struggle, and often fail, to pay their mortgages and rents.
Between December 2007 and June 2009, USA Today reported December 10, the number of federal employees earning more than $100,000 annually increased 46 percent to 382,758. Those making more than $150,000 rose 119 percent to 66,538. Only one Transportation Department employee scored more than $170,000 as the recession began. By last June, that number had soared to 1,690.
Meanwhile, federal salaries during the recession grew 6.6 percent and now average $71,206. This far outran the 3.9 percent growth in paychecks for both those in state and local government (average: $54,101) and those in the private sector (average $40,331). Big-government advocates weep that those who serve Uncle Sam do so for less than what they can earn at private companies. While this may be true for senators and cabinet secretaries, these data clearly show that typical federal employees make way more than the private workers who pay their bills — in fact, 76.5 percent more.
While Americans endure 10 percent unemployment and widespread economic anemia, for federal bureaucrats and their congressional enablers, this remains a long, lazy summer at Versailles, circa 1788. Washington has no apparent shame, nor self control, nor even a sense that it might be patriotic to snatch just a little less. Washington’s overriding principle seems to be that the American people can go to hell, so long as their tax payments keep coming. Bonnie and Clyde were mere shoplifters compared to today’s federal kleptocratic class.
Federal indulgence and incompetence are too vast to catalogue. But these illustrations are sufficiently maddening.
‐After Cash for Clunkers gloriously shipped $3 billion chiefly to Tokyo- and Seoul-based automakers, the Obama administration concocted Cash for Caulkers — fresh subsidies to make homes more energy-efficient. This program likely will cost $2 billion to as much as $20 billion, if House Democrats prevail. So far, Texas has spent $1.8 million in federal funds and has weatherized seven homes, averaging $257,000 each. Instead, this money could have purchased 10.4 median-priced homes.
‐Congress sent President Obama a $447 billion, 2,442-page omnibus spending bill on December 14. It ballooned federal spending 12 percent while inflation inches along at 1.8 percent. This measure contained 5,224 pork-barrel projects worth $3.9 billion, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. These included $292,200 to eliminate blight in Scranton, Pa. (Vice President Joseph Biden’s hometown) and $700,000 for “Shrimp Industry Fishing Effort Research Continuation” in Silver Spring, Md. Despite Obama’s promises, these luxuries all survived, line by line, when he signed it December 16.
‐Breaking the law that launched the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the House on December 16 misallocated $154 billion in repayments by TARP-funded banks. That money legally must finance deficit reduction. The Democratic House nevertheless channeled this cash to America’s fourth economic stimulus package.
‐Even worse, political favoritism has infected stimulus spending. The free-market Mercatus Center discovered that the average congressional district has received $355 million from Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package. However, Democratic congressmen’s districts averaged $439 million (a 23.7 percent bonus), while Republican districts averaged just $232 million (a 35.6 percent penalty). The typical district won 128 projects. Democratic districts averaged 152 such outlays (an extra 18.75 percent). GOP districts averaged 94 awards (26.6 percent fewer).
‐Obama visited the Copenhagen climate conference December 18 and promised to muster up to $100 billion annually for 10 years to help developing nations battle the bogeyman of so-called “global warming.” This could equal $1 trillion in carbon-coated foreign aid. Even if other industrialized nations participate, it’s hard to imagine America funding less than 10 percent of this budget. That alone totals $100 billion.
‐With a 1:08 a.m. procedural vote on December 21, the Senate’s 60-member Democratic caucus advanced a $2.5 trillion health “reform” that 61 percent of Americans oppose, according to CNN. Greased by Majority Leader Harry Reid’s taxpayer-funded bribes to wobbly Democrats, the bill’s final passage at dawn on Christmas Eve was engineered to approve the measure before senators faced pesky constituents back home who want to euthanize the bill.
‐The Treasury announced on Christmas Eve, and therefore buried, the news that it will give blank checks to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for the next three years. In essence, the Treasury (meaning you) will pay the tab whenever Fannie or Freddie needs fresh capital. Rather than padlock these failed institutions and auction their parts, Treasury is weighing new cost estimates as high as $400 billion.
‐The Obama administration similarly whispered some big news at 4:30 p.m. the day before New Year’s Eve, just as Americans started to put their champagne on ice. The Treasury announced that it will inject $3.8 billion into GMAC, atop the $12.5 billion it already has pumped into the auto- and mortgage-finance company. The federal share of GMAC now rises from 35 percent to 56 percent. Thus, the taxpayers, including you, now own a majority stake in GMAC. We can add GMAC to Gettysburg and the Grand Canyon among America’s collectively owned jewels.
This fiscal gluttony rattles China, which kindly pays America’s bills these days.
“The United States cannot force foreign governments to increase their holdings of Treasuries,” warned Zhu Min, the People’s Bank of China’s deputy governor. As Shanghai Daily reported, Zhu recently told academics: “The world does not have so much money to buy more U.S. Treasuries.”
Washington’s relentless spending and resultant debt auctions prompted Moody’s to hint that America’s triple-A bond rating could disappear. It recently called U.S. public finances “resilient” — not bad, but a notch below Canada, France, and Germany’s “resistant” rating. Beside America’s, their debt profile looks less like a junkie trolling for heroin.
One of 2010’s most intriguing questions will be whether the American people’s aggregated nausea by November triggers the peaceful overthrow of the United States government.
– New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.