Steve Lackmeyer, who runs (or walks, if time permits) the downtown beat for The Oklahoman, tossed up this tweet on Tuesday evening: Was the November election about ... $349K for swine waste management in North Carolina? $235K for noxious weed management in Nevada?

At the time, I stifled the urge to suggest that any sum spent to neutralize Harry Reid, a noxious Nevada weed indeed, was almost certainly worth it. Unfortunately, though, while voters may have had something else entirely in mind, Congress is getting pretty much what it wants: money to throw around, and political cover in case said voters have a long memory. Not that there's any chance of that: the electorate is pretty easily distracted by shiny things.

All the more reason, then, to remind you of this simple truth: Federal funds do not exist. No such thing. Every dime in the Treasury is a dime that came from somebody else, almost certainly without that somebody's consent. This is not to say that Washington shouldn't have any money at all, of course; there are certain tasks which the government is mandated to perform. There's a list of such tasks in the Constitution. It does not, you may be assured, include management of either swine waste or noxious weeds.

Then again, Washington doesn't even bother to pay lip service to the Constitution anymore. Asked where in the Constitution the government was given any authority to command individuals to buy health insurance, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi responded: "Are you serious?"

Pelosi, of course, is a Democrat. Not that you can expect anything much better from the Republicans: Oklahoma's own Senator Jim Inhofe claims that things like swine waste and noxious weeds are covered by Article I, Section 9. The pertinent quote therefrom: "No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law." Inhofe seems to believe that the mere act of making an appropriation is lawful by definition — and he's damned if he's going to pass up any of those nonexistent "Federal funds" that might be headed to Oklahoma.

Which is why the 112th Congress isn't going to be much of an improvement over the 111th: nobody is willing to slay the beast. Reducing the deficit is all very well and good, but it's purely a sideshow. The main event has to be reducing the government itself, getting it out of areas where the Constitution says it has no legal business being. The tax structure must be reformed so that government cannot hand out favors here and there, or attempt to punish those for some reason out of favor.

You probably shouldn't hold your breath waiting for any of this to happen, though. My guess is, you won't see any of it until violation of the oath of office — remember that "defend the Constitution" business? — becomes punishable by something more than a Rangelian slap on the wrist. "Term limits," said P. J. O'Rourke, "are not enough. We need jail." We may even need rope.

The Vent

#705
  16 December 2010

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