Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Budget Battle

Much warmer weather recently so I am hoping that this past Saturday was the last day I will see single digit temps on my car's outdoor thermometer. With the warming trend, I have seen groups of deer with multiple members. Whole families (extended families?) coming out to forage for newly uncovered grass. A few mornings ago, I had one individual deer run alongside my car for a brief few moments. I had slowed considerably fearing it would bolt across my path so it just seemed to pace me for those few seconds then stopped running altogether. Makes me wonder if there are daredevil deer who enjoy the rush of adrenaline just as some humans do.

A while back I had a conversation with a new acquaintance about federal spending. At the time, I mentioned that we spend over $800 billion a year on defense (that is 25% of our yearly budget), and that any serious attempt to balance the budget will require a hard look at this huge number. At the time, my new friend seemed surprised that we spent so much money in that way. Yesterday, I saw him again, and we spent some time discussing the President's proposed 2012 budget. This time, his response to my question as to whether he saw confirmation that we are again allocating 25% of our expenditures to defense was that we should be spending that much money on defense (more if necessary to combat our enemies) and that we should stop spending money on education, community programs, etc, you know, all those liberal left wing areas.

Previous to that conversation, I read an interesting article in this past Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer written by Harold Jackson. It addressed his belief that there is selfishness at work, especially among those in the upper income brackets, and that this "unsated selfishness" is driving the newly dominated Republican House of Representatives to target those programs designed to help the poor. Without saying it so abruptly, Mr Jackson intimated that not only are the Republicans who are led by the new "tea party" conservatives without compassion, that additionally their association with the conservative Christian right smacks of hypocrisy in the face of the teachings of Jesus Christ.

If you have read my blog in the past, you will probably conclude that I disagree with my new friends belief in high military spending and low domestic spending, and that I agree wholeheartedly with Harold Jackson's article. And you would be mostly right although not completely.

My sentiments aside, I truly feel that there is an unspoken viewpoint, one that represents many people's perspectives but which is unpublished and non-existent over our TV and radio waves because it reflects a position that does not believe one side or the other is completely right.

Being conservative and caring for the poor are not mutually exclusive attributes. There are certainly rich people who are selfish and uncaring. But the unwillingness to share is more the result of our society's obsession with material possessions rather than political affiliation. Taking care of ones own has mutated to ONLY taking care of ones own, and this attitude infects all economic strata of America. Perhaps we need to better flesh out our overall societal issues before accusing one side or the other of disdain for the needy.

Yet, I think most people disagree with those that claim that our federal dollars should not be spent on assisting the poor, who say that charity is the domain of the church and community, and that government assistance programs are veiled attempts to redistribute our country's wealth from the rich to the poor. Yet is not our government based on that timeless document that begins "We the People..."? Aren't our elected officials tasked with spending taxpayer money as we the people direct them? Whether they spend it on assisting the poor or buying weapons, they represent us in their decisions. So, when your congressman or senator votes to spend your money in ways that do not reflect your desires, you have that most powerful of tools, the vote, to make your will known. Do you want your money spent in America or overseas? Do you want your money spent to help Americans or kill terrorists? As I said above, I believe that most people seek a balance between these and many other priorities. Perhaps in the next election cycle we should express those priorities in the voting booth at a rate greater than the paltry 40% that voted in the 2010 election.

And perhaps we need to remind our elected officials, both on the left and the right, that compromise is about finding common ground and then working as adults to fashion the best possible budget which reflects the best in our priorities.

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