As the holiday season approaches, families across America are carefully planning how to spend their hard-earned money on travel and purchases.
If only our elected officials in Washington were as frugal. Many of them, it seems, are trying to spend as much of your tax money as possible on wasteful handouts and vanity projects. And waste is only part of the problem. Their profligacy poses an increasingly real threat to the country’s economic health.
A telling example took place as the House was debating this year’s transportation spending bill, which includes a cut to Amtrak. When a handful of moderate Republicans objected, House leadership decided to postpone a planned vote on the bill.
The potential reduction to Amtrak’s subsidy isn’t random. House Republicans have been pushing for spending cuts to reduce the unsustainably high federal budget deficit, which rose to $1.7 trillion for the latest fiscal year.
Outrageous deficit spending during the pandemic helped to spur the brutal spike of inflation, which remains far above pre-pandemic levels. A typical family has lost thousands of dollars in purchasing power since January 2021.
In turn, interest rate increases meant to dampen inflation are pushing mortgage payments to historic highs. With this economic environment, it should be common sense to reduce spending on low-priority parts of the federal budget.
Amtrak received a hefty $2.5 billion in the most recent omnibus spending package. If Americans used the passenger rail service heavily, that cost might be justified. Amtrak, however, accounts for less than 0.1% of passenger miles traveled, meaning its share of transportation funding is grossly exaggerated.
This is not new. Amtrak was founded in 1971, a time when rail ridership was plummeting. Over 50 years and tens of billions in total subsidies later, rail travel is still an afterthought for most of the country.
The one exception is the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington—the only part of Amtrak that comes close to breaking even. Most of the Republicans objecting to Amtrak cuts hail from the Northeast, which partially explains their position.
But this ignores an even larger pot of money—the $4.4 billion per year that Amtrak receives from the 2021 infrastructure bill. Those funds are untouched by the House legislation, meaning that Amtrak would get an above-average handout even with the House’s cut.
When the gross federal debt is $33.7 trillion—roughly $259,000 per household—the idea that Amtrak is entitled to two fistfuls of taxpayer cash is hard to justify.
Another example of dubious budgeting is the Biden administration’s recent request for $56 billion in “emergency” domestic spending.
This is an attempt to get around spending limits that both parties agreed to in the spring. Worse, most of the request focuses on decidedly nonemergency provisions.
The request includes $6 billion for broadband internet service, which is nobody’s idea of a crisis. Incredibly, it comes just two years after President Biden signed an infrastructure package that included $64 billion for broadband internet.
Mr. Biden is also seeking billions of dollars each for securing communications infrastructure, uranium sourcing, child care subsidies and—despite it being for domestic needs—overseas food aid. These provisions should be part of the regular spending debate, not shoved through the “emergency” budgetary loophole.
Fortunately, Congress still has time to do the right thing. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, Louisiana Republican, has made budgetary responsibility a core focus through his time in office.
If Mr. Johnson and other Republicans can stick to commonsense budget cuts (such as reducing Amtrak subsidies) and take a pass on Mr. Biden’s dubious spending requests, it would mark an important first step toward restoring fiscal sanity to Washington.
In turn, that would mean protecting the American economy from a tidal wave of debt and inflation—a gift that would last far beyond the holiday season.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Times