Have you been following this so-called Supercommittee? They’re the new superhero group of Superfriends from the Supercongress who are going to save America from plummeting over the cliff and into the multi-trillion-dollar abyss. There’s Spender Woman (Patty Murray), Incumbent Boy (Max Baucus), Kept Man (John Kerry), and many other warriors for truth, justice, and the American way of debt. The Supercommittee is supposed to report back by the day before Thanksgiving on how to carve out $1.2 trillion dollars of deficit reduction and thereby save the republic.
I had cynically assumed that the Superfriends would address America’s imminent debt catastrophe with some radical reform — such as, say, slowing the increase in spending by raising the age for lowering the age of Medicare eligibility from 47 to 49 by the year 2137, after which triumph we could all go back to sleep until total societal collapse.
But I underestimated the genius of the Superfriends’ Supercommittee. It turns out that a committee created to reduce the deficit is instead going to increase it. As The Hill reported:
Democrats on the supercommittee have proposed that the savings from the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan be used to pay for a new stimulus package, according to a summary of the $2.3 trillion plan obtained by The Hill.
Do you follow that? Let the Congressional Budget Office explain it to you:
The budget savings from ending the wars are estimated to total around $1 trillion over a decade, according to an estimate in July from the Congressional Budget Office.
Let us note in passing that, according to the official CBO estimates, a whole decade’s worth of war in both Iraq and Afghanistan adds up to little more than Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill. But, aside from that, in what sense are these “savings”? The Iraq War is ended — or, at any rate, “ended,” at least as far as U.S. participation in it is concerned. How then can congressional accountants claim to be able to measure “savings” in 2021 from a war that ended a decade earlier? And why stop there? Why not estimate around $2 trillion in savings by 2031? After all, that would free up even more money for a bigger stimulus package, wouldn’t it? And it wouldn’t cost us anything because it would all be “savings.”
Come to think of it, didn’t the Second World War end in 1945? Could we have the CBO score the estimated two-thirds of a century of “budget savings” we’ve saved since ending that war? We could use the money to fund free master’s degrees in Complacency and Self-Esteem Studies for everyone, and that would totally stimulate the economy. The Spanish–American War ended 103 years ago, so imagine how much cash has already piled up! Like they say at Publishers Clearing House, you may already have won!
Meanwhile, back at the Oval Office, the president is asking for your votes for the 2011 SAVE Award. To demonstrate his commitment to fiscal discipline, he set up a competition whereby federal employees can propose ways to cut government waste. A panel of experts (John Kerry, Paula Abdul, etc.) then weigh the merits, and the four finalists go up on the White House website to be voted on by members of the public: It’s like Dancing with the Czars. Last year, Marjorie Cook of Michigan, a food inspector with the Department of Agriculture, noted that every year USDA inspectors ship 125,000 food samples to its analysis labs by “next day” express delivery, and that a day or two later the labs ship the empty containers back to the inspectors using the very same “next day” service. Marjorie suggested that, as the containers are empty, they can’t be all that urgent, and should be mailed back at regular old ground delivery rates.
But this reform was way too radical, so it didn’t win. And happily, even as we speak, mail couriers are rushing empty containers back and forth across the USDA-inspected fruited plain at your expense. This year’s SAVE Award nominees include Faith Stanfield of Toledo, a “General Technical Expert” with the Social Security Administration. As someone who’s technically expert in a very general sense, she sees the big picture. It’s on the front of the SSA’s glossy magazine. Did you know Social Security has its own glossy magazine? It’s called Oasis and it’s sent out to 88,000 SSA employees plus about a thousand government retirees. It’s like Vogue or Vanity Fair, but without the perfume and fashion ads, because who needs Givenchy and Yves St. Laurent to fund your mag when you’ve got the U.S. taxpayer? It’s the magazine that says you’re cool, you’re now, you’re living the SSA-bureaucrat lifestyle. But Faith thinks they should scrap the glossy pages and only publish it online.
Ooh, I dunno. Sounds a bit extreme to me. Could result in hundreds of Social Security lifestyle editors being laid off and reduced to living on Social Security.
Anyway, the winner of the SAVE Award gets to meet with the president to discuss his or her proposal. The proposal then gets submitted to a committee for further discussion on whether to set up a committee to discuss discussing it further. But, unlike the Superfriends’ Supercommittee, the lunch expenses are cheaper.
What with the proposal to use the nearly two centuries of budget savings from the end of the War of 1812 to fund the construction of high-speed monorails and the plan to turn the Social Security Administration’s in-house glossy into an in-house virtual-glossy, it’s no surprise that the president himself has got the deficit-reduction fever. On Wednesday, he signed an executive order “Promoting Efficient Spending” — and ending government waste. Just like that! According to Section Seven:
Agencies should limit the purchase of promotional items (e.g., plaques, clothing, and commemorative items), in particular where they are not cost-effective.
Sounds like someone’s seen one amusing Janet Napolitano bobblehead too many at the DHS holiday party. About to stick in one of those giant commemorative plaques on the side of the road saying “These next three miles of single-lane scarified pavement brought to you by the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act”? Don’t even think about it.
Fresh from launching the war on tchotchkes, the administration then proposed a 15-cent tax on Christmas trees in order to fund a federal promotional campaign to promote the sale of Christmas trees. Possibly Commerce Department research showed that there’s a dramatic fall-off in the sale of “holiday trees” round about December 26 every year, and Obama figured a little stimulus surely couldn’t hurt. He was forced to rescind the proposal, presumably after an ACLU chum pointed out that settling the Bureau of Christmas Tree Promotion lawsuit would wipe out all the budget savings from the French and Indian Wars.
Meanwhile, as these ruthless austerity measures start to bite, the government of the United States continues to spend one-fifth of a billion dollars it doesn’t have every hour, every day, every week, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Ramadan.
And remember, folks, Rick Perry is the dummy because he wants to abolish so many government departments, he can’t keep track of them all. Keep it simple, Rick. Just stick to a campaign pledge to set up a supercommittee to report back on the possibility of using savings from mailing back empty specimen beakers by three-day ground service to fund Medicare. Then people will take you seriously.
— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2011 Mark Steyn