President Obama recently told a packed auditorium that American consumers must stop seeingcredit cards as "free money." Fair enough. And while he's at it, maybe he could impart his financial stewardship advice to Congress.
Despite the soaring rhetoric on the campaign trail from then-candidate Barack Obama that he would drastically change Washington, it's become excruciatingly clear that it's business as usual here in our nation's capitol.
Powerful interest groups continue to call the shots, bullying members of Congress to support their particular constituency. Worse yet, at a time when many families are cracking down to eliminate unnecessary expenses, many members of Congress are spending our hard-earned tax money (and plenty of borrowed cash, too) at lightning speed.
In his first 100 days in office, President Obama oversaw perhaps the most dramatic spending spree by the federal government in our country's history. After signing the so-called "stimulus bill" with a price tag of $787 billion (not including interest), Obama signed the FY2009 Omnibus Bill (nearly $400 billion dollars). This bill alone contained 9,287 pork projects costing $13 billion.
If you're doing the math, President Obama and this Congress have spent close to $1 trillion, including interest, in the first few months of 2009.
Unfortunately, there's no end in sight for Congress' current spending spree. A number of powerful members of Congress are feverishly working on ambitious -- and very expensive -- proposals to enact universal health care coverage and impose a cap-and-trade system for our country's energy usage. Blindly focused on meeting arbitrary deadlines, some in Congress seem in a rush to send the president bills without considering the cost.
On health care, some are pushing to enact universal coverage that would dramatically concentrate health care decision-making power in Washington while reducing consumer choice. On energy, the cap-and-trade system some claim would be an ingenious engine of new jobs is prone to fraud and abuse -- and would do virtually nothing to cool global temperatures.
Meanwhile, things are soon to get worse. A government report issued by the Social Security and Medicare Trustees confirms that our entitlement programs are ballooning to dangerous levels. According to the report, the present value of the total shortfall in Social Security and Medicare exceeds $45 trillion.
That means that, unless Congress acts, the government will have no choice but to borrow more, slash spending on programs such as defense and raise taxes. The reason is simple: More Americans will soon be drawing out of the systems than are contributing to them. Unfortunately, politicians have been reluctant to enact any serious reforms for fear of political retribution.
At a time when we're all being forced to cut down on unnecessary expenses and become better stewards of our money, it's only fair to ask Congress to do the same. Lawmakers should ease off on spending and consider the debt we will be bequeathing our children and grandchildren.
Sometimes real leadership means knowing when to say "no" to unnecessary spending.
Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage Foundation.
First Appeared in El Diario La Prensa (NYC)