What Budget Deficit?

TO WIT

February 23, 1992|By DAVE BARRY

It is a proven fact that the average American doesn't care about the federal budget deficit. Sometimes on the "NBC Nightly News," for fun, Tom Brokaw will say, "Next: the federal budget deficit." Then they'll show a 15-minute videotape, without sound, of a dog eating peanut butter. They never get a single phone call, because the instant Tom says "budget deficit," the viewers grab their remote controls and switch to sleazy tabloid shows full of "news" about Roseanne Barr Arnold's husband's tattoos and the William Kennedy Smith sex-change operation.

Of course you're different. You're not an "average American." You care about the issues, right?

You liar. You're not even reading this paragraph. You're saying to your spouse: "Hey, it says in the paper that William Kennedy Smith had a sex-change operation!"

Well, he didn't. I just said that to stimulate the sagging libel-suit industry, and to make the point that nobody cares about the deficit. This is good. The deficit doesn't matter.

To understand why, let's compare the U.S. government to a typical American family, headed by "John and Mary Smith," who have a combined annual income of $22,000. Let's say that the "Smiths" have drawn up a budget, listing what they want to spend in the coming year for various items such as food, housing and court costs to have the quotation marks legally removed from their names. Let's say that this budget totals $27,000.

This means the "Smiths" have an impending budget deficit of $5,000. So what is the only logical thing for them to do? You guessed it: They should spend $30 million to build a moving sidewalk in Altoona, Pa.

That's how Congress is handling it. With the federal deficit running at several hundred billion dollars per year, Congress passed a transportation bill that, according to a news report by Reed Karaim of Knight-Ridder Newspapers, includes $30 million for a "high-tech" moving sidewalk in Altoona, which happens to be in the district of Rep. "Bud" Shuster, the ranking Republican on the surface transportation subcommittee.

I don't know about you, but as a taxpayer, I am outraged to discover that, in this day and age, Altoona residents are still being forced to walk around on regular low-tech stationary sidewalks. I'm thinking of maybe organizing a group of us to go there and carry Altoonans around on our backs until they get their new sidewalk. "What have I done today to help keep 'Bud' Shuster in Congress?" is a question we all need to ask ourselves more often.

We also need to think about Arkansas Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt, who inserted a provision into the transportation bill to have taxpayers pay for -- get ready for a crying national need -- erecting signs that will identify part of U.S. 71 in Arkansas as the "John Paul Hammerschmidt Highway."

You're saying to yourself: "What? All he gets named after himself is part of one lousy highway? Can't we do more to recognize Rep. Hammerschmidt?" Yes, we can. We can start a nationwide movement to name things after him. Pets, for example. "Oh no!" we could say. "Look what Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt did on the rug! Bad Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt!"

I don't mean to single out Bud and John Paul. The transportation bill had more than $5 billion worth of special local projects and favors attached to it, lampreylike, by various congresspeople. But this is good, because these projects will create jobs. See, when the government spends money, it creates jobs; whereas when the money is left in the hands of taxpayers, God only knows what they do with it. Bake it into pies, probably. Anything to avoid creating jobs.

That's why President George "Samurai" Bush flew all the way to Euless, Texas, at taxpayers' expense, so he could be seen on television signing the transportation bill at a highway construction site. "Jobs, jobs, jobs," he said, in a quotation that will probably win the award for Best Articulated Reason for Signing a Big Fat Lardbucket of a Transportation Bill.

Of course eventually, down the federally financed road, all this money will have to be repaid, with interest, by somebody. Our kids, in fact. Should we worry about this? Are we placing an unfair burden on them? Nah. Maybe they'll be poor, but any time they want, they'll be able to hitchhike to Altoona and ride the sidewalk. The lucky little Hammerschmidts.

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