Column: Reining in the spending spree

By Se Young Lee

For most of us, $8.184 trillion is an unreal amount. But for the U.S. federal government, $8.184 trillion holds special meaning: if it owes debtors more than that amount, as mandated by Congress, it would have to start defaulting on its financial obligations.

As of Feb. 6, the national debt stood at $8,197,590,334,157.11.

I, a lowly scribe working for about 1.5 cents a word, am terrified by the fact that I would have to get 17,645,967,964 columns published by The Daily Illini to be able to match our nation’s credit card bill. But, considering the apparent lack of serious alarm, the legislative and executive branches seem to consider this potential fiscal crisis as merely a problem of getting a credit extension.

In fact, Congress has authorized 50 increases to the statutory debt ceiling, or the maximum amount that the U.S. government can borrow to pay off the bills, in the past 40 years. And considering the proliferation of earmarks, pet projects and barrels of pork attached to spending bills, Washington, D.C. seems perfectly willing to continue digging this nation into a fiscal rut.

If I went and maxed out my credit card even once, all of my plastic would be shredded by my parents, who would rightly point out the sheer stupidity of spending beyond my means. They would then go on to reason that, after working 40 hours a week just to keep up with the monthly payment, I would learn to better manage my money. But it appears that our representatives and presidents seem perfectly fine with continuing to sucker their constituents into footing their bills – even as they get bigger each time.

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This kind of a spending habit is simply irresponsible, especially considering the fact that politicians in Washington are essentially getting what they want at our expense, as well as that of our children and their children. What is even more perplexing is the fact that the current members of Congress and President George W. Bush would, presumably, be smart enough to realize that diminished revenues from the tax cut they pushed through and an increasingly costly campaign in Iraq would necessitate substantial cutbacks from the budget. Yet, there was no serious attempt to try to cut back on the expenditures even after the new debt limit was set merely two years ago.

I do not mean to act as if I belong to the anachronistic group of states’ rights activists. Their claims of the fruits of such a political system was invalidated by the failures of the Articles of Confederation, the deplorable objectification of an entire race and a systematic racial discrimination that persisted long after the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments.

Like it or not, the era of big federal government will persist. A vast majority of Americans, in some way, shape or form, rely on the services of the innumerable arms of the government that has led this nation into our current way of life. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, three federal entitlements guaranteed to all qualifying American citizens, albeit inadequate in many cases, serve as a safety net to ensure that our fellow people will at least get to preserve their dignity and obtain the goods and services necessary for their survival.

But there comes a time when even the most useful tool must be replaced or fixed.

Congress should raise the debt ceiling to avoid the default, as U.S. Secretary of Treasury John Snow asked back in December 2005. But it should also start cutting off the fat from the budget bills that have become bloated over the years with riders and amendments that pay for projects that will serve none but the already large crowd of creditors.

Congressmen have talked tough about eliminating corruption and excesses on Capitol Hill as 468 seats will be up for re-election come November. Americans should demand results, and vote out of office those who don’t back up the rhetoric with real action.

Se Young Lee is a junior in Communications and the director of communications for the Illinois Student Senate. His column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at opinions@dailyillini .com.