Congress Made Mo’ Money, Gave America Mo’ Problems

Shutdown Showdown 2013 has been a long and exhausting exercise in mind numbing political rhetoric. Both sides dug their heels so far in the dirt that they've been found in the burnt remains of Apple's Chinese factory.

We have reached the point of no return amongst our elected officials – at least in the sense that we know what the fight is about: somehow, someway, we need to stop spending so much damn money – though it also seems inevitable that Congress simply decides to keep punting. The latest proposal will keep the government running until January 15. Maybe that will give them time to get their heads out of their asses and start talking about something real.

That, in essence, is the core of America's budget problems. This debate places people in two categories: people who think the rich don't pay enough money, or those who think poor people are a drain on our budget. People are entrenched in these camps because that's how the debate gets framed by our politicians and reinforced by cable's excuse for news. But the reality is that our government wastes far more than any of us as individuals, and the government is placing the blame on it's citizens in the hopes that they won't notice (which cable news also feeds into because conflict boosts ratings).

Let's start with my favorite, the drug war. This war began when prohibition ended, and unemployed investigators and policemen needed something and someone to police. They chose marijuana and minorities, and started locking people up for tax reasons. This expanded into the civil war now known as the War on Drugs in the 1970s, and has by all accounts been a massive failure.

Consider that cocaine and heroin are both 60 percent more pure and 80 percent cheaper than in 1990. Marijuana is 161 percent purer and 86 percent cheaper (meanwhile, Oreos are just as addictive as cocaine). More than half of the United States supports legalizing marijuana, a number vastly bigger amongst those 18-24.

This war, which now incarcerates more blacks than were slaves during just before the Civil War, costs $41.3 billion annually (of which about $15.6 billion is attributed to the federal budget), which does not include the actual cost of incarceration (about $24 billion to non-violent offenders).

Studies also show legalization of all drugs would result in a $46.7 billion in tax revenue, about a $89 billion swing per year (if you think legalizing drugs is insane, check Portugal's drug policy and get back to me), a number $15 billion higher than the total cost of SNAP (food stamps) in 2012. Instead, agencies like Meals on Wheels, organizations that genuinely do great things for Americans, are cut during the sequester and blanked during the shutdown. Their operating budget is a whopping $1 million per year.

It's impressive, honestly, how the system paints Meals on Wheels-type associations as money-grubbing, entitled, lazy drains on society, when in fact the government is wasting valuable financial resources locking up our neighbors, many of whom should be labeled as small business owners instead of criminals. It's equally impressive how the country damns the rich, as if financial success is inherently evil. It's propaganda at it's finest, and everyone caught blaming taxes, on either side, is a fool, especially those who continue to elect do-nothing Congressman as they rake in six-figure salaries.

Those fools were also likely educated by the Department of Education, another fiscal waste holding back our society. National, standardized policies like No Child Left Behind mean that some kids catch up while others get held back. There has been a correlation between national education policies and the rise of ADHD. By the way, those ADHD meds are coming out of your pocket in addition to the taxes necessary to pay DOE employees six-figure salaries, 95 percent of whom were deemed “nonessential” during the shutdown (FYI, federal employees get paid about double what private-sector jobs pay).

The DOE recently filed their request for budgetary increase, as if they needed the money after making an insane $51 billion profit off student loans last year. They need over $1 billion to justify what appears to be a laundry list of paperwork, audits, salaries, travel expenses and training for all the new, soon-to-be failing programs.

Meanwhile, US education rates sink faster than GOP approval ratings, despite spending more on education than any other country (we do the same for healthcare). The long-term consequences of this are devastating, leaving job openings unfilled due to a lack of educated workers, shrinking the economy or moving it closer to the talent.

These policies simply don't work and they waste lots of taxpayer money, yet none are on the chopping board during the government shutdown. This only makes sense if the US government is happy keeping it's citizens dumb and in jail, though that would certainly leave a lot more money for the big-time donors of Congress to rake in, and thus more money for their Congressional puppets to do their bidding.

So when Congress punts again in the near future, don't let them call a fair catch. This one is on them. Time to make a play.

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