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As the White House and the GOP Congress drove the federal government ever deeper into the red, Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly said, "Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter." Maybe not for the Bush administration, but they are an increasingly grave problem for President Obama and the Democratic Congress and perhaps an even worse problem for whoever comes after them.
An independent scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office, reported the government ran a July deficit — an excess of expenses over revenues — of $181 billion. That is close to the $185 billion deficit the Reagan administration ran for the entire year of 1984 when the government was battling its way out of a recession almost as bad as this one.
Perhaps the deficits didn’t matter then because they weren’t so huge. The running total of this year’s federal deficit is $1.3 trillion, on track to reach $1.8 trillion when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. That’s more than the entire U.S. Gross Domestic Product — $1.7 trillion — in 1976 which, in a lot of ways, is not all that long ago.
The river of red ink is why it’s not only fiscally reckless but self-indulgent for the House to add $330 million to the defense budget so the Pentagon can double the number of corporate-style jets it plans to buy to ferry VIPs — including members of Congress — around the globe. The Pentagon says it doesn’t need nor want the additional jets.
The Pentagon asked for money to buy one Gulfstream V and one Boeing 737 to replace aging aircraft and to buy two business-class aircraft it currently leases. The House added money to buy two additional 737s and two Gulfstreams. And the measure specified that two of the new aircraft be based at the national capital’s Andrews Air Force Base, the departure point for many VIP trips.
The Wall Street Journal documented one 11-day trip over New Year’s that took 10 lawmakers and six of their spouses to Hawaii, American Samoa, New Zealand, the South Pole and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef at an estimated cost of more than $500,000.
Congressional travel undoubtedly has it merits, obscure though they may be to outsiders, but these times demand restraint and austerity. The luxury aircraft are a small item in the great mass of federal spending, but it’s like the broken window theory of policing — start letting these slide by and soon both the neighborhood and the budget are shot.