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Richard Larsen: Time to Employ the “Pruning Knife”

October 19th, 2010 by Halli

By Richard Larsen

“The multiplication of public offices, increase of expense beyond income, growth and entailment of a public debt, are indications soliciting the employment of the pruning knife.” So penned Thomas Jefferson at the nascent stages of our republic. The applicability of that verity has never been more apt than today.

Public offices have indeed multiplied. Government has grown exponentially in recent years to a massive size, taking over entire industries and large segments of our economy. By some estimates, government (at all levels) now comprises 40% of all consumption in the country. When you consider that government doesn’t produce anything, that all it does is consume and take from those who do produce, that doesn’t bode well for the future of economic growth for the nation.

The increase of expense beyond income is well documented, and the ruling class in Washington refuses to take responsibility or ownership of it. The Wall Street Journal put the spending increases of the past three years under the control of Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, and Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, in perfect perspective. “Congress controls the purse strings. When Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid rose to their present jobs in January 2007, the deficit was $161 billion. It had been on a downward trajectory from $413 billion in 2004. Three years later, the Pelosi-Reid Congress had added $1.2 trillion to the deficit. Of course, Mr. Bush sponsored or signed into law many of these deficit-raising bills, such as the bank bailouts and effective tax rebates of 2008. But the Democratic Congress passed them.”

“Long forgotten is the promise Mrs. Pelosi made on the day she became speaker: ‘Our new America will provide unlimited opportunity for future generations, not burden them with mountains of debt.’ I think future generations would like a do-over. … For the sake of comparison, let’s look at the Pelosi-Reid fiscal record over 10 years. In January 2007, the CBO projected a $379 billion surplus over the next decade. Now, after four years under Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid, and two years of Mr. Obama in the White House, the 2007-2016 projection is a deficit of $7.16 trillion.

“This deterioration of the nation’s fiscal situation is arguably the worst in United States history, and it was brought to us courtesy of a congressional leadership that pledged ‘pay as you go’ budgeting to bring the budget into balance. It is no wonder that Americans are not eager to retain the services of these two spendthrifts as leaders of Congress.”

President Jefferson was correct that these are indications that solicit the employment of a pruning knife, if we can find one big enough. But first we need to take the shovel away from congress. When you’re in too deep, you don’t keep digging deeper, yet that’s precisely what congressional leadership has continued to do.

Thirty years ago the financial mess of the country was nowhere near what it is today, with the total federal debt to GDP ratio over 90%. Yet Ronald Reagan recognized even then that unbridled government spending posed a serious threat to the nation. He declared, “These United States are confronted with an economic affliction of great proportions. … It distorts our economic decisions, penalizes thrift, and crushes the struggling young and the fixed-income elderly alike. It threatens to shatter the lives of millions of our people. Idle industries have cast workers into unemployment, causing human misery and personal indignity. Those who do work are denied a fair return for their labor by a tax system which penalizes successful achievement and keeps us from maintaining full productivity. But great as our tax burden is, it has not kept pace with public spending. For decades, we have piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging our future and our children’s future for the temporary convenience of the present. To continue this long trend is to guarantee tremendous social, cultural, political, and economic upheavals. You and I, as individuals, can, by borrowing, live beyond our means, but for only a limited period of time. Why, then, should we think that collectively, as a nation, we are not bound by that same limitation?”

Hillary Clinton was exactly right when she declared recently that our federal debt constitutes a very real national security threat. The minority party in Washington has been dubbed the party of “no,” yet what we need is a party of “hell no!” No more expansion of government, no more increase in spending, no more curtailment of individual freedom, no more trampling of the explicitly stated Constitutional limitations of governmental power. We all do our part when we vote in two weeks.

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