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It has been a big week for the big spenders in Congress.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate gave its approval to a $1 trillion spending package, in a remarkably bipartisan vote of 69 to 30. The eye-poppingly huge bill seeks to address a long standing issue — infrastructure — that politicians of both parties have been talking about for decades.
Will it actually address infrastructure? To some degree, certainly, but I wouldn’t get too excited. There is no question that it will fund many projects across the country, including repaved roads and repaired bridges, as well as new construction of popular things like broadband capacity. But my suspicion is that five or 10 years from now we’ll still be hearing from politicians about “crumbling infrastructure” in this country, and our need to do something about it.
While some are surprised by the vote — particularly the number of Republicans who ultimately supported the deal — I’m not. Politicians of all stripes are always eager to send billions of dollars in pork back to their home districts, in a vain attempt to convince their constituents that voting for them is worth it.
Who cares if the spending is reckless and irresponsible, particularly in the wake of the trillions of dollars already spent within the last year on COVID-19 relief? Who cares if the country is broke? Who cares if the national debt is now approaching $29 trillion, and the never-ending pork buffet will be economically ruinous in the future?
Nope, roads are popular, and so is pork, so let’s keep the gravy train running.
As bad as the $1 trillion in spending is, behind it is the next iteration, a larger $3.5 trillion package of liberal wishes and dreams cleverly marketed as “more infrastructure.” A framework for this highly partisan bill was pushed through the Senate early Wednesday on a 50-49 party-line vote.
It is perhaps a sign of the times that a spending proposal that is basically as large as the entire federal budget no longer even makes me blink. Even as recently as a year ago, the prospect of spending $1 trillion, let alone $3.5 trillion in one sitting would have been enough to cause my jaw to hang to the floor in shock. Today, it seems so routine that I can’t claim surprise.
Both bills will ultimately be passed by the House of Representatives, of course. While it is true that the larger package will almost certainly be changed, given Sen. Joe Manchin’s stated belief that there would be “grave consequences” to such a large spending bill, there will end up being a “compromise” and it will pass. Trillions of dollars out the door in the blink of an eye.
My question is this: When will you care? When will you stop being fooled by the false promises of revolutionary projects that will fundamentally change America for the better? When will you stop buying into the rhetoric of politicians promising you the world, if only you will support their plans to spend this country into oblivion?
The answer to that question seems to be “never.” I used to think that the inevitable American sovereign debt crisis and resulting worldwide economic meltdown — exponentially larger than what happened in 2007 — that is somewhere in our future might do the trick, and wake people up to the folly of this kind of profligate spending.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of evidence that would happen. When several Eurozone countries — Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain — imploded financially due to their inability to pay their titanic debt, the reaction of their citizenry was a collective shrug.
Those countries, though, had the benefit of being small economies with bigger nations able to bail them out. What happens when it is the United States that implodes, and is unable to pay its debt? The prospects are terrifying to consider.
But hey, who cares about that, as long as our politicians get great photo ops to help their re-election campaign, right?
Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.