Christmas in January
By John D. Turner
30 Dec 2003

Recently, the President gave the annual State of the Union address. As usual, it was the occasion for political speech making and promises of gifts from “Uncle Santa” to various constituency groups. Since this seems to be an annual exercise in giving, perhaps the State of the Union should be moved to Dec 25th.

There were plenty of goodies to be given out. $400 Billion over the next 10 years to reform Medicare. $1.2 Billion in research funding to produce cheap hydrogen powered automobiles. $15 Billion over 5 years to combat AIDs in Africa. A prescription drug program for seniors (no price tag given, but expect big bucks). $450 Million to provide mentors for disadvantaged junior high school students and children of prisoners. $600 Million over the next three years to provide drug treatment for addicts who otherwise can’t seem to find treatment.

And of course, Democrats would point to the President’s proposed tax cuts as “gifts to the rich”. Making permanent and effective immediately those tax reductions scheduled to take effect in 2004 and 2006. Eliminating the marriage penalty, so that married taxpayers pay the same taxes on their collective incomes as they would if both were single. Raising the child tax credit to $1000 per child. Eliminating double taxation of dividends.

As usual, there was little in the speech concerning the actual state of the Union. Instead, it was a political speech on tax cuts, new government spending projects, what a bad guy Saddam Hussain is and why we need to go to war with Iraq. The Republicans were predictable with their praises on why the ideas espoused were so great, and the Democrats were likewise predictable with why they were not.

For people like me, who want to see the government shrink, not grow, the speech was a great disappointment. I have no doubt that many of the projects Mr Bush proposed spending money on are worthy projects. I could come up with a plethora of worthy projects for the government to spend money on without much effort. And as far as dollar amounts are concerned, if some is good, isn’t more better?

My problem is that, as usual, I see no place in the Constitution where the President is empowered to commit our tax monies to any of them. I realize that Congress has to authorize the expenditures, but likewise, there is no constitutional provision for Congress to do so either. Of course, that hasn’t stopped them before. Expect to pay for most if not all of these projects in the current budget. But still, isn’t it a bit unethical for a President to propose spending to Congress that isn’t covered in our Constitution simply to woo votes in the next election? Of course, this is nothing new either.

How much money have we spent thus far to “reform Medicare”? And likewise Social Security? How much more will we spend before we admit that both are broken; that no amount of money we can reasonably spend will fix them, and that new solutions are required; the main one of which is to get government out of the picture entirely? But what politician wants to get rid of something that makes them look so good when they propose more money to “reform” it?

Cheap hydrogen powered vehicles would be nice. Two thirds of the Earth’s surface is comprised of water, which can be easily broken down into hydrogen and oxygen. Our current dependence on foreign oil would be greatly mitigated if we were to tap that abundant energy source, one that no nation could disrupt. But to say that such a vehicle is pollution free, as the President did in his speech is misleading. True, the combustion by-product is water, not carbon-dioxide or other noxious gasses. However, put millions of vehicles in rush-hour traffic, such as experienced in Los Angeles every day, and you will discover that water too, can be a pollutant. Imagine Phoenix, Arizona, at 120 degrees and 80 percent humidity. The main point here again though, is that this research, however nice, is not a function of the Federal Government.

Combating AIDS in Africa? I’m sure many convoluted arguments can be made. Surely, it is a humanitarian issue. But by what authority does the President (or the Congress either) decide to spend 15 Billion of our money on such a program. Did anyone ask us? Does anyone care? And once we have spent the 15 billion, is that it? Or will we commit to ever increasing amounts, as it is unlikely that AIDS will disappear in Africa, even with our generous donation. Once the money spigot is turned on, it is very hard to turn it off again. When was the last time you saw a government program disappear?

Where in the Constitution does it say that anyone in this country has a right to prescription drugs? I’m sure it would be nice. Many things would be nice. It would be nice if the government would make my mortgage payment for me. After all, I do have to have a place to live, right? And it would be nice if the government bought me a car. I have to get to work each day as well. And it would be real nice if that car were a Cadillac, or a Lincoln Navigator, rather than the 1996 Saturn with 135,000 miles on it that I currently drive. It would be nice…but alas, there is no right enumerated in the Constitution granting me such. And there is no authority in the Constitution granting Congress the authority to spend money to provide me with such either. Perhaps what needs to be explored is a way to accomplish the same end without forcing the taxpayers to involuntarily provide me with these things. Perhaps the same is true with prescription drugs.

I’m going to be old someday. And when I am, it sure would be nice if I could find someone else to pick up my medical tab. But you know what? There isn’t going to be enough money in the world eventually to pick up that bill for everyone. And “free” medical care, paid for by the government, isn’t free either. Someone pays. And when the money runs short, somebody makes decisions about who will and who won’t get medical care. That’s the way it works in every country in the world with socialized medicine. You need a transplant, a CAT scan, kidney dialysis; you go on a waiting list. And if you happen to die before you get to the front of the line, well, too bad, so sad. But the care was “free”, you know. If you win the game of musical chairs, at least it didn’t cost you anything. In some countries, some services, in high demand and with limited availability, are denied based on age. They are reserved for more “productive” members of society. Unless you are a government official, of course. Or rich. If you are rich, you can afford to go to America for treatment. Of course, if we adopt a socialized medical program as well…

$450 million to provide mentors for disadvantaged junior high school students and children of prisoners. How nice. We can always spend money if we say it is for the children. And how can one say that providing mentors for such is a bad thing? If $450 million is good, think of how much better $500 million would be. Or a billion? Or five, or ten? How much is enough? How much is too much?

$600 Million to provide treatment to drug addicts. Anyone who thinks about this for even a moment will realize that this amount, however large it seems, is just a drop in the bucket. And once established, will continually increase. Remember, drug addicts vote too.

The point to remember is that the government isn’t a corporation. It doesn’t earn its own money. The government gets its money by taking it away from others; from corporations, independent businesspersons, and from individual citizens. It does this in the form of taxes, fees, tariffs, and any other legal instrument it can find or invent. The money comes from your pocket and mine, one way or the other. Increased taxes on corporations lead to increased costs for goods and services. We pay at the cash register. Ditto increased fees and tariffs. And individual income and payroll taxes come out of our pockets each payday.

A certain amount of this is good. We expect that it will cost us something to maintain our government, after all, nothing is free. A government is necessary if we are to maintain our freedom.

But the government shouldn’t try to be all things to all people. It can’t. There isn’t enough money in the universe to pay for every program that could be conceived in the minds of politicians. A few million here, a billion there; pretty soon you are talking about real money.


cannot continue to increase government spending, and at the same time lower taxes and expect our country to remain solvent. This is called deficit spending. Likewise we cannot continue to increase government spending, and at the same time raise taxes to pay for it all. There isn’t enough money or taxpayers to pay it. If we believe that we can do either, we are being unrealistic, and our country is doomed, eventually, to fail. Is this the legacy we wish to leave to our children? Or are we indeed, so selfish that we no longer care.

Our problem is not under taxation. It’s over spending. How refreshing it would be to hear a State of the Union speech where the President stood before Congress, and presented a list of government programs that are no longer needed, or are unproductive, and proposed cutting them, instead of increasing their budgets. How refreshing it would be to have a president who was willing to prune the federal budget instead of burying us in fertilizer. It is well known that a tree grows better when it is pruned. Our economy, likewise will grow better, and our freedom will increase when much of the Federal tax burden, parasitical government bureaucracy, and over regulation of goods and services is pruned away, and control of many functions the federal government has assumed over the years is returned to the state and local level where it properly belongs.

But it won’t happen until we as a people make it happen. Until then, it will continue to be Christmas in January, as usual.