Why Won't President Obama Suggest any Serious Spending Cuts?

The Mohair subsidy. The AmTrak subsidy. The Ready to Learn TV Program subsidy. What all of these federal subsidies (and scores more) have in common is that they are on the specific list of federal programs that Republicans are proposing to eliminate to cut the debt and preserve America’s fiscal integrity.

Hey, with the U. S. national debt increasing by $4.1 billion each day, we are faced with national bankruptcy–which has aroused the Republicans from their lethargy. They will agree to raise the debt ceiling if the politicians will agree to restrain their spending appetite by making specific cuts.

What specific suggestions for cuts has President Obama made? Almost none. It doesn’t count to talk about future savings from possible cuts in national defense, or alleged savings from Obamacare. It’s all in the future, and we don’t know if any of it will happen.

For the president to make no suggested cuts in our bloated federal budget is astonishing. Let’s take the more than $100,000,000 annual subsidy to Amtrak as one example. Amtrak is expensive and inefficient, which is no surprise. The first transcontinental railroads–the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific–were built in the 1860s and they ran about $60 million (in 1869 dollars) in debt in building costs, and both went bankrupt (the Union Pacific several times) before the end of the 1800s. By contrast, the Great Northern Railroad, which went from St. Paul to Seattle was built with no federal subsidies and never went bankrupt. The subsidies to the Union Pacific and Central Pacific made them dependent on the government, and helped lead to their downfall. Thus, if the federal subsidies to transcontinental railroads failed when first tried in the 1800s, why should we be surprised that AmTrak loses money every year now. And what does this tell us about the huge subsidies President Obama has planned for high-speed rail?

Why is the president failing to join the current debate? Why is he offering almost no specific cuts?

The answer is that the flip side of every federal program is federal jobs. And those who hold government jobs want them to continue even if they are as useless as the mohair subsidy. These government jobs create votes, and the Obama campaign is heavily dependent on those who receive government checks. Thus, for President Obama to suggest slashing any of these subsidies is to ask him to cut off voters and contributors to his 2012 reelection effort. Also, the president’s devotion to redistributing wealth means he must try to take from the rich to give to the poor, who will then presumably be grateful and will vote for him next year.

President Obama’s attitude on keeping government programs, regardless of their value, parallels that of FDR in the 1930s and 1940s. When World War II began, and twelve million Americans went to war, FDR would not cut the WPA, the CCC, or the NYA–all of which were designed to put young people to work. Finally, in 1943, in the middle of the war, the Republicans and conservative Democrats ended all three of these programs.

President Reagan once observed that a government program is the nearest thing to eternal life that we have here on earth. The Republicans in 1943 gave us hope we could actually get rid of some of the most useless federal programs. If the Republicans of 2011 can do the same, the U. S. may yet get its budget in balance and preserve its AAA credit rating.

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