I was reminded this week that my father had an interesting definition of the political term liberal. According to him, "A 'liberal' is one who wants to spend the money that a 'conservative' earns." We have all been following the current machinations in Washington involving the President, the House and the Senate trying to raise the debt ceiling by raising taxes or lowering spending or some combination thereof. The liberals can see no problem raising taxes to afford their voracious spending habits. The conservatives have vowed to resist raising taxes and attempt to force the liberals to cut spending to meet the current debt limit. Drama!
For 12 years I had the honor of serving the public, eight years as County Commissioner and four years on City Council. Each of those years an annual budget was agonized over and a budget made with projected expenses not exceeding projected revenue. In only one of those budgets, the first one when I was new to the job and didn't know better, did I vote to increase the tax levy to meet the desired spending. As I remember we commissioners voted to raise the property tax levy from 30 cents to 301⁄2 cents to raise enough revenue to meet our needs. Raising taxes would have been easy as the statutory limit for counties is 50 cents on each $100 valuation and most counties in Nebraska are setting right on the 50 cent limit.
Our present U.S. Congress could take a lesson from our record as Commissioners led by Eldon Moore, Mr. Frugal. The City too has been good to hold the line on raising property taxes as they have kept their levy at a number less than the statutory limit except when they cheated by implementing a sales tax to generate more tax money to spend. That sales tax was of course approved by a majority vote of the citizens of McCook. Unfortunately not all who pay the sales tax were able to vote but that is a subject for another day.
Dad always seemed to have a beef with Sen. George Norris, the liberal Senator from McCook, for whom we just celebrated his 150th birthday. The celebration also marked the 75th Anniversary of REA the implementation of which brought electricity to rural citizens throughout America. It was Sen. Norris who believed that by spending from the vast treasury of the United States great projects, the systems of dams harnessed to produce electricity in the Tennessee Valley for example would benefit great numbers of citizens. Sen. Norris was proven correct in that the modernization of rural America produced great economic benefit that in turn generated tax revenue that more than returned to the treasury the large sums spent in building the required electrical infrastructure.
Similar investments, for example the Interstate Highway system, championed by President Eisenhower, have produced greater economic benefit and thence taxes that have more than repaid the tax money invested. Another example would be the Space initiatives through NASA by President Kennedy, grand projects with fantastic returns that have produced the high tech life that we take for granted today.
Money invested in defense, our superb military, is a horse of a different color. The defeat of the military conquests of Nazi German and Imperial Japan came at great cost but made the world safer for people to live in civil liberty. The designs of world conquest by the USSR were stymied through great expense in building up our own arms which in turn caused the USSR to spend itself broke into financial and then total collapse. Money spent for defense is vital but how much is a continuing problem.
Over the years liberal spending from the federal treasury took a different tact when it was realized that voters could be swayed to keep incumbents in office by spending in their home districts. Senator Robert Byrd earned a reputation as "king of pork" by steering vast sums to be spent in all sorts of projects in his home state of West Virginia. He died in office in 2010, one of the longest serving congressmen ever. Senator Byrd's lessons of using our money to fund his reelections were well learned, even by our own "conservative" Democrat Senator Ben Nelson, and "earmarks" are a significant part of any federal budget yet today.
In watching today's struggle to reach a compromise in spending that will necessitate raising the federal debt one has a hard time sorting out how much spending is necessary for the good of the country and how much is purely political so that President Obama and the Democrats can win reelection. Our federal bureaucracy has developed a voracious appetite for tax money and only through starving the beast can it be brought under control. Hopefully for our own economic well being, the conservatives will be able to hold the line and the constant increase in federal spending can be brought under control. One can always hope.
That is how I see it.