President Obama has been getting a lot of mileage out of Mr. Romney's comment on the first Presidential debate:
"I'm sorry, Jim, I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too. But I'm not going to -- I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for. That's number one." Source cnn.com transcript of the debate.
Discounting the inaccuracy of who is actually currently buying most of the US Treasuries (hint - China has fallen off drastically), the comment generated a lot of press. The outrage at the thought of cutting a $445 million dollar two year appropriation to the CPB has been high.
The thing is, his comment gets right to the heart of what is wrong in the federal budget today. What is $223 million dollars in a budget that is as large as the US federal budget. One estimate puts this amount at something less than one one hundredth of one percent. Tiny. Insignificant. Why raise a fuss over such a tiny amount when it will raise the blood pressure of the people who elected us.
Well, in basic terms, that is a completely correct view to take. The problem is that every part of the federal government is someone's Big Bird. Whether it is a few million dollars to help fund some shows on public television (or more accurately the stations doing the broadcasting), funding for a space telescope, robot rovers on Mars, or some spare ammunition for the soldiers in Afghanistan, a vast number of projects and budget line items only amount to a few thousand or a few hundred thousand or a few million dollars. Hey, for $400 million or so per year you can run a Nimitz class aircraft carrier assuming you have the $4.5 billion it takes to build one. If you want the latest and greatest, prepare to shell out a few more billion. The problem is that all of those thousands of small projects add up to a big chunk of money.
At some point in the very near future - like 2012, we need to elect some serious Representatives to the House and Senators to the Senate who have the intestinal fortitude to decide just what exactly we can afford to spend money on and eliminate or seriously reduce funding for the rest. We cannot keep running up the debt for our kids to drown in.
I fully realize that the small, insignificant expenditures like this are dwarfed by the big monsters like Social Security, Medicare, Defense, and the like, and they need trimmed down as well, regardless of what promises were made when times were good. If times ever get good again, then we can once again expand a few entitlements. But right now we need to be thinking shared sacrifice in all these items, and Big Bird is an example of some funding that could be picked up elsewhere - as much as we all hate pledge weeks!
Every project has merit and is important to one or many groups of people. But there is only so much the people can pay in taxes and thus only so much the federal government can responsibly do and someone needs to draw the line. The crop we've had for many years have been an epic fail. Vote them out and replace them with some new blood.
The line item veto needs to be implemented in some fashion that will pass muster or as a constitutional amendment. Then, maybe, just maybe, a president or president hopeful's comment that he'd like to take an ax to some spending item might mean something. As it is, you can ignore pretty much anything you hear in the debates dealing with money (at least if the president plans to act constitutionally). Fix Congress first and pass a line item veto constitutional amendment. Then threats to kill Big Bird might actually carry some weight.