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Herb Palmer: Congressional 'big spenders' to face new challenges

As this is written (Oct. 20), Congress is in a standoff with Clinton and Gore, mired in the mud over passing a federal budget, and the shenanigans are going to cost a staggering amount of money. If the spending increases continue at the present r...

As this is written (Oct. 20), Congress is in a standoff with Clinton and Gore, mired in the mud over passing a federal budget, and the shenanigans are going to cost a staggering amount of money. If the spending increases continue at the present rate, nearly twice the current rate of inflation, the non-Social Security surpluses could be eliminated in five years.
There is a spending orgy planned in the near future, and lawmakers will have a 2001 budget with the largest amounts of spending in years, says Arizona Republican Senator John McCain. He has been a crusader against what he calls bipartisan pork barrel give-aways. By the end of this present session, bills that have been stalled in committees for months will suddenly move with blinding speed, defying scrutiny and rational accounting. The portion of the budget over which Congress has control is approaching $650 billion.
Election year politics have an irrepressible instinct for pork -- paying off campaign promises before the new regime takes over. In addition to paying for the expected items like operation of the air-traffic control system and the federal courts, taxpayers will pay this year for a pageant in Nevada to study ways to enable air passengers to get boarding passes at hotels. They will pay for research on Vidalia onions in Georgia and for peanut allergy research in Alabama. In Alaska, they will spend $176,000 to help the Reindeer Herder's Association. Residents of Alabama will be forever grateful for the $1.5 million set-aside to help restore the venerable statue in Birmingham, a 56-foot solid iron rendition of the Roman God of Fire.
There is ample evidence that the huge surpluses projected over the next 10 years, $268 billion next year, may have forever changed politics in Washington. The result is a kind of giddiness burning a hole in our pockets affecting sound judgment. Already President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore have landed $12 billion to fund six years of conservation projects intended to protect urban parks, recreational green space, forests and coastal areas before the new Congress convenes in January.
Clinton will push for a new minimum wage hike to $6.15 an hour, and will demand $621 billion in discretionary spending, $8 million for the preservation of historic black colleges and $850 million to reduce class sizes in the nation's schools. All this to come out of his total budget of $1.83 trillion.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert describes the situation like this to explain his aspirations for the surplus. After lunch one day, he told his guests: "Look at that plate of cookies on the table. Everybody is entitled to one cookie or two or three, but when we leave, my staff comes in and the cleanup crew comes in, and there will be no cookies left on the plate. Because they are there, they'll eat them all. Our job is to take the cookies off the table."
Now, as the new Congress convenes in January, the old cry of "Save Social Security" will begin again, and many of them will be asking, "Just what is the present status of Social Security." Well, the future of Social Security lies in a file cabinet in West Virginia. A better name for it would be the "Trust Me" fund, because unlike private trusts and bonds that can be sold on the open market, these Social Security bonds are essentially IOUs to pay Social Security bills that come due. These bonds are issued only to the Social Security Administration (SSA) by the Treasury Department, which stores the paper certificates in a file cabinet at the Treasury Building in Parkersburg, W.V.
By the end of this year, the trust fund is expected to hold a record $1 trillion in bonds from Social Security payroll taxes taken from millions of salaried workers and their employers. But there is no real money in the kitty. Uncle Sam has borrowed it to pay the bills, and replaced it with IOUs. If the full amount of tax receipts had been invested in high interest municipal bonds, mutual funds, mortgage-backed securities and the like, the interest on those bonds might now be able to pay almost all the expenses of the federal government. They would become in effect a perpetual motion bill-paying machine, thus slicing regular taxes by as much as 50 percent.
Please don't misunderstand this writer. I am not against the Social Security system. It is perhaps the most important retirement plan ever devised by man. I am critical of the way the funds are being wasted. When the Social Security law was passed in 1935, the deductions from America's salaried workers and their employers totaled about 4 percent. When my father passed away on New Year's Eve day in 1940, my mother received $18.50 a month as her benefit. But the system has grown.
Today, the combined tax of both salaried workers and the bosses totals about 15 percent, and the benefits to survivors have increased in proportion. The 45-million Americans who rely on the Social Security pension will receive an increase of $29 to $845 a month to a possible total of $1,536 a month. Benefits will increase at the same rate to other covered groups including people with disabilities and families whose primary breadwinner has died, as well as the 6.3 million people who qualify for supplemental Social Security payments which go to the poor and disabled.
(Editor's Note: Material in this column was obtained from a news release entitled Washington goes on a spending spree, written by Terrance Samuel in The Washington Post national weekly edition.)
On the lighter side ...
Steve and Dave were laid off, so they went to the unemployment office. When asked his occupation, Steve replied, "I'm an underwear stretcher. I sew the elastic onto cotton panties."
The clerk looked up "underwear stretcher" and found it classified as unskilled labor. Steve would receive $300 a week unemployment.
Then it was Dave's turn. When asked his occupation he said, "diesel fitter." Since diesel fitter was skilled work, Dave would get $600 per week. When Steve found out, he stormed back into the office to complain. The clerk explained that Steve was an unskilled laborer, while Dave was a skilled worker. "Skilled?" said Steve, outraged. "What skill? I sew the elastic on the panties. Then Dave holds them up and says, "Yup, diesel fitter."
-- Reader's Digest

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