The problem is mandates

The rhetoric from Washington this week inspired this thought:†Our biggest national problem is the same problem your school board faces. Itís the same problem you may have faced at some time.

School boards struggle with annual budgets. When there is not enough money they have to make cuts. They usually cut Ė or threaten to cut Ė the sports program. Or other popular programs. The reason they do is that they donít have many other options. In truth, they control only a small portion of the budget. The rest of the budget the state and federal governmentís control. The state in particular.

The state tells schools what they must do in a host of areas. These are called mandates. The mandates may be forcing the school to spend more and more. And that spending may be killing local taxpayers. But the school board cannot stop the mandates. They are locked into the spending the mandates call for. The mandates eat up most of their budget.



You may have had a similar problem. You have a huge mortgage. And a huge credit card bill. And maybe a home improvement loan. And now you find there is not enough money to pay your bills every month.

Now you can cut down on your other spending. But that will not solve your problem. Your problem is that the mortgage, loan and credit card payments eat up most of your budget.

Washington has the same problem. Mandates eat up most of the budget.

The President can talk all night about freezing spending for five years. He can brag about saving money here and there. He can pretend that his guys will root out waste. (Right, Mr. President.)

All this is like the school board cutting out the basketball program. Itís like you switching from steak to hamburger to balance your home budget. It ignores the basic problem. The basic problem is that once Washington pays for the mandates, there ainít much left to tinker with.

The mandates for Washingtonís budget are the big programs that are set in concrete. Social Security. Medicare. Medicaid. A bunch of welfare-type programs. When the President calls for a spending freeze, the freeze does not apply to these programs. He may cut back on the food for the chimpanzees. But the food for the elephants remains the same.

Congress cannot freeze or cut the spending on these programs next year. The White House cannot suggest it either. Just as your school board cannot slash what it will spend on its lunch program. The state and feds mandate what they have to feed the tykes. This is set in stone.

These big programs are the problem. They cost more than the country can pay. Paying for them is plunging us further into debt. And pay for them we must. Because they are set in stone. Just like school mandates. Just like your mortgage.

Can states re-write mandates? Can you re-negotiate your mortgage? Can Washington re-write these big programs? Yes. But it is a big deal. The politicians donít like to mess with big deals like this. Because doing so will anger too many voters.

We will not get out of this mess until some politicians show some backbone. Some courage. The courage to cut the benefits of these big programs. The courage to admit the truth to voters and face their wrath.

That, unfortunately, is a tall order. Taller than most of our politicians. You only stand tall when you employ a lot of backbone. Backbone is in short supply in Washington.†††††††

From Tom ... as in Morgan.††††††††††††††††††

For more columns and for Tomís radio and new TV shows (and to write to Tom): tomasinmorgan.com.

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