FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
The cost of government will get figured out on the back end
The Associated Press writes of four Social Security judges appearing before Congress to “face accusations they rubber-stamped claims for disability benefits, approving billions of dollars in payments from the cash-strapped program.” They approved over 90 percent of the cases they heard. One judge testified that he “heard thousands of cases and never had one overturned because the applicant was not disabled.” Another judge had a 99 percent approval rate. These high rates are especially curious because such cases don’t reach the judges until they’ve already been rejected by other parts of the Social Security system, usually more than once.
Republicans on the House Oversight Committee produced a report saying “some judges approved claims at alarmingly high rates as part of an agency effort to reduce case backlogs and processing times.” Approving these claims is quick and easy, while “denials can be appealed, so judges must meticulously document their reasons.” It’s the inverse of the VA scandal, where denying treatment to veterans and parking them on secret waiting lists was the easiest way to manipulate statistics and make it look like top bureaucrats deserved their nice big bonus checks.
The good news is that overall approvals for disability claims appear to be tightening up. The bad news is that the number of disabled workers and dependents collecting these benefits has risen to 11 million – an increase of 45 percent over the last decade. That’s a whole lot of people suddenly getting disabled out there.
These hearings on disability payments come on the heels of the Congressional Budget Office throwing in the towel on ObamaCare and declaring it has become impossible to project its costs into the future with any degree of accuracy, given all the changes hastily made to the program by the President. On Monday, when a reporter asked Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan for the price tag on the expanded student loan program, he said, “We don’t actually know the cost yet… obviously we have to go through a regulatory process, so we’ll figure that out on the back end.”
Well, of course. That’s how government works these days. The amount of money citizens have agreed to provide Washington is largely irrelevant. The government spends what it wants, and spills as much red ink as necessary to make the books balance. The American people don’t need to worry their pretty little heads about how much anything costs. It all just gets figured out on the back end.
Liberated from the discipline of budgeting, the central State never has to make any tough decisions. There is no need to ask any existing beneficiary of government’s generosity to make do with less, when a new spending program is announced. All things can be promised to everyone. The bills will come due later, likely during a future Congress and Administration, at which point it becomes the mournful duty of “responsible” politicians to inform the American people that they’ve got to pay more in taxes.
One does not get the sense that very many people in Washington regard public money as a sacred trust. The Treasury is a cookie jar large enough to accommodate any number of grasping hands. Millions vanish without a trace; billions are committed without blinking an eye. The new man-made humanitarian disaster on the border, in which young illegal aliens respond to the clear invitation extended by our Ruling Class to collect free citizenship plus benefits, is going to cost us $2 billion or so, and that’s probably just a down payment. Not a single American taxpayer was asked if he wanted to pony up $2 billion to construct refugee cities for children flung out of South American hell-holes. It’ll just get thrown into the vast and incomprehensible morass of irresponsible spending. The Ruling Class won’t have to give anything up to take care of the immigrant tidal wave it summoned. None of its other spending priorities will be compromised a bit. How much will those hundreds of thousands of young people cost us when they are folded into the American public welfare system? Don’t ask. We’ll figure that out on the back end.
An old business aphorism holds that you’ve got to spend money to make money. With Big Government, you’ve got to spend your budget to get a bigger appropriation. Having money left over, after a year in which your agency’s mission was accomplished, is like holding a hot potato. Get the cash out the door, create more dependents, hire more government workers, reinforce the Army of Debt… which is ready to march against anyone with the temerity to suggest the government should spend less money. The short answer to why all of these Big Government programs are riddled with fraud is that Big Government doesn’t really mind fraud all that much. It has no real consequences for the bureaucracy, except in the relatively rare instances that it makes big news that riles up the public, or an extremely conscientious official swings into a corrupt agency and tries to make a difference.
The people who think government is spending and taking too much are almost universally derided as selfish and greedy, if not downright unpatriotic. If you think your taxes are too high, you’re just a dupe in service to fat cats who stand to reap millions if their taxes are lowered. The desire for smaller, more efficient, more responsible government is never portrayed as civic responsibility… even though it is the essence of civic responsibility. We’d all understand that better, if Washington wasn’t allowed to run hundreds of billions of dollars in deficits every year, because then waste and fraud would be cutting into the benefits collected by honest people, and wiping out the ambitious agendas of the Ruling Class. As it stands, taxpayers who complain about wasteful spending are treated as if they were blowing the whistle on a victimless crime.
The people who want more government spending, on the other hand, can make themselves heard loud and clear. The Washington Free Beacon has a remarkable article about a National Weather Service water resources facility at the University of Alabama that cost $18.8 million to build… and that still wasn’t good enough for the labor union representing its employees, which demanded upgrades including “that each employee have a soundproof office, receive a pay increase, and have access to a community garden.” They even specified that each office must be “furnished with a desk from the Kathy Ireland Southampton Onyx Collection, have a ‘Freedom Task Chair with Headrest,’ and a 51 inch Samsung television, with a cable package that includes all available news and weather channels.” Too bad the employees won’t always be at their Kathy Ireland Southampton Onyx desks to enjoy their 51-inch Samsung TVs, because the union demands also include a requirement that employees of the facility can work from home at least 50 percent of the time.
Fiscal crisis? What fiscal crisis? The money keeps flowing, beyond anyone’s ability to estimate what future costs will be… and frankly. as long as future demand outweighs cost, it won’t really matter until the whole system comes crashing down. I thought the wave of young illegals piling up at the border smacked of being a Cloward-Piven manufactured crisis, designed to overwhelm and collapse the system so it can be replaced with something even more government-oriented. A key point of the Cloward-Piven theory is that it destroys the ability of the people who pay for government to control it. The dependents, and the Ruling Class which claims them as dependents, are in the driver’s seat forever.
Every aspiring bureaucratic tyrant loves the idea of an arrangement in which demand for public money utterly trumps supply. The Great and the Good will tell us what should be done, and decide what their constituents “deserve”; the rest of us will be told to make the costs work out on the back end. Eventually a day comes when there is no back end. The trick for aristocrats is to be safely out of Washington with their fortunes protected before that day arrives.