Thursday, February 17, 2011

President Obama's Budget Loses the Future-- Part II

On Tuesday, I wrote a post discussing how President Obama's budget loses the future by inappropriately addressing spending, ignoring entitlement reforms, and increasing federal education spending. There are additional aspects of President Obama's budget that lose the future as well--namely funding for pet projects like high speed rail, increased funding for public broadcasting, and decreased funding for defense.

High speed rail is an initiative that President Obama has devoted spending to since the beginning of his presidency. Eight billion dollars of the "stimulus" package was devoted to high speed rail, and his budget proposal released this week provides for another $8 billion with Obama ultimately wanting $53 billion in funding over 6 years . In his State of the Union address a few weeks ago, President Obama had reiterated his support for high speed rail by suggesting that high speed rail would provide jobs in construction and increase businesses areas near the rails, just at had occurred with construction of the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway. He set this goal:
Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail. This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying –- without the pat-down. As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.

One of those routes underway in the Midwest goes between Chicago and St. Louis running through Springfield, Illinois, an area formerly represented in Congress by current Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Part of the "stimulus" money aimed at jump starting the economy two years ago went toward this segment of high speed rail. and this particular project has not even broken ground to date and will not be completed until 2014. Essentially, it has done nothing to create jobs in this geographic area, and it has not instilled a great deal of enthusiasm among residents. When the state of Illinois first received the $4 billion dollars in federal funding, even former Democratic mayor Tim Davlin and the county board discussed suing over the plans because the location of the high speed rail project would devastate downtown business and halt plans for rail consolidation elsewhere where it would be less congested and less of a problem for downtown businesses.

It's not only that Springfield residents do not want it for business purposes, they will not likely not utilize the service. Estimates show that Illinois residents would only ride high speed rail once every 8.7 years. If the Left understood supply-and-demand and were not beholden to labor unions for this and many of their initiatives, they would realize this is not an efficient project. Additionally, President Obama's claims that high speed rail would cut travel times in half. The project press release indicated that the trip between Chicago and St. Louis by high speed rail would take 4 hours and 32 minutes, a reduction of 30% compared to traveling by car. An improvement, yes, but nowhere cutting travel times in half, as President Obama asserted. It's no wonder recently elected, Palin endorsed Florida Governor Rick Scott is rejecting $2.4 billion in high speed rail funding. Suffice it to say, Governor Palin, following the State of the Union, was right to say:
And the Obama administration has a lot of half-baked ideas on where to spend our hard-earned money in pursuit of “national greatness.” These “investments,” as the President calls them, include everything from solar shingles to high speed trains. As we struggle to service our unsustainable debt, the only thing these “investments” will get us is a bullet train to bankruptcy.

Indeed such an inefficient, unnecessary, costly project is a "half baked" idea, and "investments" like these put us on ride to bankruptcy on high speed rail built from Rearden metal tracks.

President Obama's budget also includes significant funding for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, which funnels funding to National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Broadcast Service (PBS), to the tune of $451 million in FY2012 and includes 2 years in advanced appropriations. While funding for public broadcasting and high speed rail is a drop in the proverbial budget bucket, taxpayers should not be required to fund programs and initiatives that either facilitate a reciprocal relationship with unions or possess a decided ideological bent. Addressing funding of NPR and PBS is something that Governor Palin promoted several months ago when Juan Williams was fired for comments he made. She asked not for these programs to be silenced, but for removal of federal funding for a program that made its aim dissemination of ideology rather than information:
If NPR is unable to tolerate an honest debate about an issue as important as Islamic terrorism, then it’s time for “National Public Radio” to become “National Private Radio.” It’s time for Congress to defund this organization.

NPR says its mission is “to create a more informed public,” but by stifling debate on these issues, NPR is doing exactly the opposite. President Obama should make clear his commitment to free and honest discussion of the jihadist threat in our public debates – and Congress should make clear that unless NPR provides that public service, not one more dime.

Thankfully, de-funding NPR and PBS is something that House GOPers are addressing. Yesterday, Democrats laughably held a press conference in support of funding for public broadcasting complete with an appearance by Arthur, a cartoon aardvark from one of PBS's shows. It's a little disappointing that the House Democrats didn't wheel out Thomas the Tank Engine instead, or they could have addressed support for both high speed rail and PBS funding in one fell swoop!

However, one of the areas that President Obama has made cuts is in his bloated budget is in defense spending--cancelling $13 billion worth of projects and cutting the Pentagon budget $78 billion over 5 years and reducing overall military spending 5%. While, as with any government agency, there is room for inefficiencies and burdensome bureaucracies to be addressed and programs that could be cut in the defense program, this should not be done indiscreminantly. In a speech focused on foreign policy and national defense last summer Governor Palin said:
Something has to be done urgently to stop the out of control Obama-Reid-Pelosi spending machine, and no government agency should be immune from budget scrutiny. We must make sure, however, that we do nothing to undermine the effectiveness of our military. If we lose wars, if we lose the ability to deter adversaries, if we lose the ability to provide security for ourselves and for our allies, we risk losing all that makes America great! That is a price we cannot afford to pay.

This may be obvious to you and me, but I am not sure the Obama Administration gets it. There isn’t a single progressive pet cause which they haven’t been willing to throw billions at. But when it comes to defense spending, all of a sudden they start preaching a message of “fiscal restraint.” Our Defense Secretary recently stated the “gusher” of defense spending was over and that it was time for the Department of Defense to tighten its belt. There’s a gusher of spending alright, but it’s not on defense. Did you know the US actually only ranks 25th worldwide on defense spending as a percentage of GDP? We spend three times more on entitlements and debt services than we do on defense.

This administration may be willing to cut defense spending, but it’s increasing it everywhere else. I think we should do it the other way round: cut spending in other departments – apart from defense. We should not be cutting corners on our national security.
She summed it pretty well there--the Obama administration is willing to fund pet projects (like high speed rail), but defense is one of the first places they will look to cut. Governor Palin understands that in order to "win the future", the US government must protect both the present and the future, and this includes having a well funded military. She recognizes that funding ideologically focused program and pet projects, especially when fiscal restraint is particularly needed, doesn't win the future. As usual, Governor Palin is right, and President Obama's goal of winning the future ultimately results in losing both the present and the future.

Crossposted here, here, here, and here.

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