Since last November when the Democrats received a “shellacking” at the polls, we’ve heard a lot about “working together,” about “bipartisanship” and “reaching across the aisle.” This week’s release of President Obama’s proposed 2012 federal budget, however, unleashed the predictable partisan bickering with spokesmen from both sides sticking to their talking points: “win the future” versus “spending the future.”
Our honorable elected officials have made a point of late in telling us that America must tackle our growing national debt, which now stands at about $14.3 trillion dollars. Many of these officials have offered their own plans to reduce this debt, and most serious discussions start with cuts to Social Security, Medicare and the military budget. All unpopular programs to cut, to be sure.
In addition to this whopping debt, America is rapidly approaching something called the national debt ceiling, a point where the government runs out of borrowing power. Apparently, Congress placed a limit on how high our debt can go, and we’re about to reach that point. And this self-imposed line in the sand is another crisis in waiting.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner sent a letter to Congress early last month outlining some dire economic consequences if they failed to increase the debt ceiling. “Even a very short-term of limited default would have catastrophic economic consequences that would last for decades,” Geithner wrote.
For most of us, efforts to understand the federal budget and this national debt ceiling are daunting. Congressmen speak of hundreds of billions of dollars, and this year’s proposed budget is a whopping $3.7 trillion dollars.
(What does a trillion dollars look like? You can view an example here. A packet of one hundred $100 bills is $10,000, and can fit in your pocket. Stack enough of those packets to cover a pallet and you would have $100 million dollars. Ten of those pallets covered with stacks of $100 bills equal a billion dollars. Now cover an area about the size of a football field with those pallets – stacked two pallets high – and you would have $1 trillion dollars!)
If you’re like me, all this talk from politicians about the budget and the national debt just becomes gibberish because I can’t fathom $1 trillion dollars, and I don’t think most of the politicians can either. Still, this whole financial mess sounds rather serious, and most Americans would be pleased if members of Congress were working on solutions. Except, a lot of them aren’t.
This week, the U.S. House approved an amendment that would cut a meager $2 million out of the federal budget, not much when you consider the three football fields covered with pallets of hundred dollar bills that represent the federal budget. But maybe more infuriating than the small sum of money saved was the issue at hand – the BLM’s wild horse management program.
On Wednesday of this week, just two days after President Obama announced his proposed 2012 federal budget, the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives was engaged in debate over wild horses and burros. Specifically, lawmakers are upset that the BLM, despite a budget for the wild horse program that has grown to $64 million, seems unable to solve a problem that has been a Congressional concern since 1971, the year that lawmakers first declared protection for the horses.
Currently, BLM is charged with protecting the delicate ecosystems on federal lands, and with protecting the horses, too. To accomplish the first goal, BLM needs to assure there aren’t too many horses grazing public lands, so they’re forced to conduct regular horse roundups. These roundups, however, cause considerable alarm among some lawmakers and a lot of animal rights groupies. That’s because about the only practical way to round up wild horses on vast areas of the American West is with a helicopter.
But once a gate is shut on these wild horses it seldom, if ever, comes open again, which creates more problems for the BLM. Today there are about 40,000 of these horses in BLM funded holding facilities – more than the 30,000-plus estimated that roam the range.
Congressmen are angry that at least $37 million was spent last year to care for these horses now held in captivity. So, Indiana Republican Rep. Dan Burton did what Congressmen do when they get angry – he proposed an amendment that was approved on a voice vote to cut the BLM’s budget by $2 million.
“What I want to do is I want to send a message,” Burton said. “It costs about $2,500 per horse to keep them in these pens. There are other ways to handle this problem.”
So, the logic here is that Congress doesn’t like the way BLM is handling these horses, so they’re going to reduce funding to care for the horses. But wait, in typical government fashion we are offered a solution – contraception.
Rep. James Moran, a Democrat from Virginia who supports Burton’s proposal, says, “Instead of capturing wild horses and holding them in pens for life, BLM already should have fully implemented a less-costly, preventative and more humane option: That of controlling herd size through contraception.”
If you’re beginning to think this whole debate was a bipartisan boondoggle, you’re not alone. That’s because we tried the wild horse adoption program that basically went nowhere. Then we further reduced the chances of adoption for one of these animals when horse slaughter was effectively shut down in this country. At least one Representative voiced such lucid ideas during the floor debate.
“It is this Congress that has caused the problems (with wild horses) by saying we cannot slaughter horses,” said Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, whose family has a ranch. “Yet, we’re not supposed to keep them in pens. We’re supposed to let them overgraze the West. When the gentlepeople east of Mississippi will take these excess horses into their back yards, I will support this amendment.”
Lummis, of course, lost this argument. And maybe Congressmen Burton and Moran have a legitimate point, that BLM could do a better job of managing their limited funds to protect millions of square miles of the American West.
But while they were making their argument on the floor of the House, the debt clock was tick, tick, ticking. Each day the United States accumulates $3.5 billion in new debt. That means that for each minute the House debated the BLM’s job performance, $2 million was added to the national debt – the same amount “trimmed” from the BLM budget.
You can’t make this stuff up!