Budgeting,first and foremost, is about establishing priorities. Prioritization - a centraltenet of any sound financial plan - derives from an understanding that resourcesare not infinite. Unfortunately, many in Washington can’t seem to grasp thatfact, a situation that has become all too clear in the recent battles overdeficit spending.
The misunderstandinghas come to a head recently over disaster-related spending. House MajorityLeader (R-VA) has been vocal in his position that any supplemental spending toaddress a string of national disasters that have recently swept across the U.S.be “offset with appropriate savings or cost-cutting elsewhere” in the budget.Liberals have bristled at the idea, spouting off well-worn talking points aboutconservatives are putting concerns over the deficit ahead of the tragedy ofcommunities ravaged by natural disaster.
Such extremetalk is fundamentally misconstruing Rep. Cantor’s position.
“Of coursewhen something like this happens, there is an appropriate federal role,” Cantorhas said.“Surely we can find the money to meet ourpriorities.”
Aidingvictims of natural disasters is surely a priority, a position echoed by WhiteHouse spokesman Tim Carney in his response to Cantor. “The principle [is] thatwhen we’re having a natural disaster and an emergency situation . . . ourpriority has to be responding to the disaster and helping those regions andstates recover,” Carney said.
Establishinga system of priorities, a necessity if we are to successfully escape ourenormous deficits, doesn’t work if everything remains at the top of the list.As Republican Study Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-OH) saidrecently, “I would be happy to join Eric or any other colleague to find otherareas in the budget were we can cut lower-priority spending to offset theadditional emergency spending that is needed today.”
Of coursethis whole political scrum could be avoided if Washington realisticallybudgeted for emergencies. Every year the Federal Emergency Management Agencyreceives money to help alleviate the damage caused by weather-relateddisasters. And every year the amount is inadequate to deal with the inevitableemergencies that spring up.
Butpretending as if there will be no natural disasters only causes taxpayers morepain. When problems do spring up FEMA’s coffers get low, the politics gettough, and the President requests emergency supplemental funding that adds toour already unsustainable deficit.
America canno longer afford such make-believe. Our fiscal woes demand that Washingtonactually take steps to plan ahead and budget for natural disasters. If only wewould plan ahead, and budget accordingly, we could avoid the political back-and-forthand get down to helping those in need.
Providingrelief to victims of natural disasters and spending taxpayer money responsivelyare not mutually exclusive concepts. Resolving the two simply takes an abilityto prioritize coupled with a realistic eye toward the future.