Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column


The Appropriations Process

  appropriate(v): to take possession of or make use of exclusively for oneself, often without permission
American Heritage Dictionary

Every fall Congress goes through what is known in Washington as the “appropriations process.”  The term really is inaccurate, as it should be called the spending process.  After all, your money has already been appropriated, which is to say taken, through taxes.  Once taken, Congress spends the autumn months doing what it does best: spending money. 

Congress passes 13 huge appropriations bills each year, along with a 14th known generously as the “supplemental” bill.  These bills fund a vast array of federal departments, agencies, and programs, including more than a trillion dollars worth of entitlements.  Each bill is stuffed with hundreds of pages of goodies for countless favored groups, industries, individual companies, and foreign governments.  It’s common for dozens or hundreds of amendments to be added to each bill, always with more money for somebody.

This process gives members of the House Appropriations committee unwarranted power, because so many special interests depend on receiving a piece of the government pie.  Members of Congress play along if they hope to bring home as much pork as possible to their districts, and this includes making deals with a variety of devils.  Any member who hopes to solidify his reelection chances by delivering pork will find himself agreeing to vote for all kinds of unsavory bills in exchange.

Lobbyists also play a central role, acting as shadow legislators and pushing to ensure their clients get a healthy share of the federal largesse.  Lobbyists wield power over legislators either by promising campaign funds, or threatening to support an opponent.  Members of Congress understand this very clearly, and they work hard to avoid alienating any group represented by a powerful lobby.

The group least represented in the whole sordid affair is American taxpayers.

The entire process is like an arms race, a continuous upward spiral.  There is zero incentive to control spending.  In fact, each annual budget serves merely as a baseline for the next year.  The question is not whether the budget will go up each year, but only how much it will go up.  Federal agencies scramble to spend every last penny given them to better justify annual increases.

But who decided the federal government absolutely must spend more and more each year?  Why can’t spending be reduced, even if only by a few percent?  Imagine how much capital would be unleashed into the productive private economy if government spent just one percent less each year over the next ten years.  Does anyone seriously believe there is not ten percent worth of fat that could be trimmed from the federal budget?  Today’s government astonishingly spends more than twice what it spent just in 1990.  As commentator Lew Rockwell points out, did we really think government was painfully small then?

Of course politicians in Washington like to talk about the need for fiscal restraint, but they never vote for it.  Talk is one thing; the true test of any politician is how he votes.  The only real measure of any member of Congress who claims to want smaller government is whether he votes NO on every appropriations bill.  If he votes yes, he’s voting for bigger government.  It’s that simple.  A true fiscal conservative votes for less spending, not more. 

Most Americans think the federal government is too large, spends too much money, and spends it badly.  Even the most ardent liberals admit there is a tremendous amount of waste in government.  But Congress clearly does not agree, because it relentlessly spends more and more each year.  American taxpayers, therefore, have two basic options: start voting the big spenders out of office, or slowly submit to democratic socialism courtesy of a government that soon will devour 50% of the nation’s productive output.