I have been trying to write this blog for 3 days now and every time I start to research topics to write about I end up just getting more frustrated with our federal budget system. As I reflect on the federal budget process, I keep on going back to 2 lessons that my grandparents taught me back in 1993 when my brother and I spent the summer with them.
Lesson 1. Don’t spend more than you have.
My grandmother taught me how to budget for things/needs (i.e., snacks at the community pool and my end of the summer shopping session that we had planned) based on the income I earned (i.e., babysitting and allowance received from chores completed). From that point on I knew that you couldn’t plan on spending more than what was brought in (no matter how cute those mary jane shoes were).
There is a line in the Concord Coalition Exercise that I keep on going back to. “The economy continues to improve, and the deficit dropped dramatically to $439 billion in 2015.” What?! That is the deficit, not our debt (which is drastically more). This means that our federal government wants to spend $439 billion than we are going to be bringing in for the year. The next line in the exercise makes me laugh but it isn’t funny. “Yet, the structural problems in the budget remain, and deficits are projected to rise again beginning in 2016.” That increase that the Concord Coalition mentions is projected at just under $600 billion. Something needs to give, which leads me to the second lesson I learned from my grandparents that summer.
Lesson 2. Don’t waste your time on things that don’t work.
That summer I spent with my grandparents, they got new neighbors with boys around mine and my brothers ages. I had a huge crush on the boy that was a year or 2 older. One day, my brother and I were helping my grandfather with something involving spray paint (I honestly have no idea what we were doing but spray paint was involved). The new neighbor boys came outside and wanted us to play with them. My grandfather told us that I had to finish helping him first. He then gave me the spray paint can and told me to shake the can until it was ready. I asked how to tell if it was ready and he said when the ball inside stopped making noise. So I shook the stupid thing for what seemed like forever. After a few minutes, I complained about it taking too long, he said I wasn’t done because he can still here it. He starts laughing. I shake, he laughs even harder. My grandmother comes out to take a picture of me shaking this stupid spray paint can. At this point I realize that he is messing with me so I stop. While trying to control the laughter he says that I can go play. I really learned 2 lessons from this but only 1 applies to budgets. 1. Don’t trust my grandpa when boys are around. 2. Don’t waste your time doing something that doesn’t work.
The biggest problem I found from this exercise was that some of the research conducted actually shows that some of these programs that are being kept around do not reach their desired effect. For example, one of the options for the exercise was to cut $12 billion in Department of Education Grants for Elementary and Secondary Education. The data presented to us through the exercise states “An evaluation funded by the Department of Education concluded that programs funded by those grants had no significant impact on the academic achievement, parental involvement, or homework completion of participating students relative to similar students not participating in the program.” This says to me that these programs are not working. Why are we funding things that aren’t doing what they are intended to do?
All of our legislators need to spend time with my grandparents.
We need our legislators to take their head out of the sand, stop listening and taking things from special interest groups, and look at the data. If it doesn’t work, it gets cut. Maybe by cutting programs, we can find new and creative ways of doing things and actually see improvements to our society. Just because we have always funded or subsidized a program (I’m talking to you Amtrak), doesn’t mean we need to continue to do so. Then maybe by cutting things that don’t work, we can stop spending more than we have and start paying off China.