President, Congress on a Spending Spree


A White House summary of its new infrastructure plan before it was unveiled put the total price tag at 2 trillion, 251 billion dollars.

But the media and most others talking about it had already rounded off the figure to an easy to read, easy to say $2 trillion. In other words, to keep things simple they lopped off $251billion. I remember Senator Ev Dirkson’s popular refrain: “A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon we’re talking about real money.”

Do you have any idea how many trips around the Moon it would be if you laid 251 billion dollars end to end? Neither do I, but I did some rough calculations. If you divided it among every American who received a stimulus check this year each would get $1,976. The defense department could buy 19 Gerald R. Ford nuclear class aircraft carriers. The total defense budget in 2000 was $293 billion. How about 5 billion, 20 million hot meals at $50 apiece? You could buy every team in the four major sports leagues-baseball, football, basketball, and hockey and have enough left over for two more aircraft carriers. You could buy Finland.

It is an enormous amount of money, but apparently so small in Biden bucks, it’s not worth quibbling over in casual conversation. The rounding is just an illustration of how much in tax dollars Congress is spending or is planning to spend.

With that $250 billion yardstick, think about how much $2 trillion is. Then add to that about another $4 trillion allocated just last year for pandemic relief. Now we are up to $6 trillion. But that’s not all. Yes, if you call now, you will get another $2 trillion in new and expanded social programs, coming this April. Yes, it is all rounded. These numbers do not include the trillions in regular spending that will go out the door during the regular appropriations process.

The President and the US Congress are on a progressively progressive spending spree the likes of which the nation has seldom seen in peacetime, if ever. It is reminiscent of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

C’mon man, forget Roosevelt. This is President Biden’s Big Deal. This is how you bust a budget. This is how you get to $28 trillion in national debt without really trying. Borrowing is a breeze with low interest rates. But why so much? There is no depression and a receding emergency that has not yet been fully impacted by money still in the pipeline yet to be spent. Couldn’t we address the problems with more responsible spending?

That’s the conundrum. How did we get to this point where $250 billion tax dollars is chump change? When did we stop thinking that every dollar counted?

One of the biggest reasons is the much larger underground current running under all this spending.

The actual infrastructure section does fund roads, bridges, water, and sewer plants, airports, the electrical grids, and nationwide broadband, all of which have been neglected for decades by a Congress paralyzed by governmental dysfunction and political gridlock.

However, the total package has little to do with transportation infrastructure that accounts for only about 15 percent of the four major categories in the plan. It is no secret, no conspiracy theory that the real purpose of this massive undertaking is the transition to a progressive agenda for which Speaker Nancy Pelosi has lived a lifetime for and President Biden seems to be a new convert.

There is presumably for both a noble and compassionate motivation, using government to do good, to create jobs, ensure equal educational opportunity, decent housing, free health care, a clean environment, social justice, criminal justice, and a guaranteed annual income for everyone among a good many other ambitions.

Kumbaya, Lord, Kumbaya.

There is also the political imperative to feed the beast—ever-growing and insatiable Democratic left—which today seems in firm control of the Democratic Party and intent upon achieving a predominant and permanent role for the national government in almost every aspect of human life.

None of this is new. It’s just of much greater magnitude. And the outcome is predictable. When you spend intolerable amounts of money, too fast, too unsupervised, too carelessly, gargantuan waste and abuse are inevitable. It has already been reported that 500 suspects are charged with trying to skim off $569 million in pandemic relief aid. The likelihood of unintended and unwanted consequences is in the 100 percent range, especially when the proponents from members of Congress to the unions and wealthy activists are in a hell-fired hurry to make up for lost time, right every wrong, rewrite history, and deconstruct our economic system and social order all before the next elections.

As a result, it is unlikely that this legislation or that to follow in a month or so will get any kind of thorough review in congressional standing committees in either the House or the Senate, where the actual work of Congress and the country used to get done and where the experts are employed.

Members won’t have the time to even read the bill or bills, and most troublesome, it will not be of bipartisan construct. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made it clear that true bipartisanship is not in her political DNA. “We cannot settle for what we can agree on,” she said at the end of March. “We have to recognize that this bill is about the future.” As her former colleague and former Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel once said, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.” The President’s chief of staff called it “the most progressive domestic legislation in a generation,” and that it was.

Survey data indicates that most Americans supported the earlier relief, and a near-majority now look favorably on a Congress that they have disdained for decades. People have longed for, been desperate for Congress to do something, anything, just get something done. And the relief package did that, including a third wave of $1,400 stimulus checks to 127 million people. You can’t blame them for feeling as though they are finally getting something back.

But there are real dangers ahead. Low interest rates won’t continue to sustain the cheap cost of Federal borrowing. Spending someone else’s money is just too easy. That someone else won’t like paying it back.

That is especially true, of course for the families earning more than $400,000 a year who President Biden has already targeted for tax increases or the workers up and down the economic supply chain who may get the ax when their companies get hit with higher taxes. There is a whole set of questions about the tax package Our friend Frank Hill wrote recently that the Biden tax plan is ‘guestimated’ by the Congressional Budget Office to raise $3 trillion over 10 years, a paltry $300 billion a year. It is a veritable spit in the bucket when it comes to paying our bills.” True, Frank. It’s barely more than the amounts we’re now rounding off.

This spending spree and this leap-of-faith attempt to transition to what is called ‘democratic’ socialism pose danger to the economy and our social well-being.

In this age of believing what you want to believe, and hearing, seeing, and reading only that with which you agree, it is a big mistake to fall for one of those three great lies: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”

Editor’s Note: Mike Johnson is a former journalist, who worked on the Ford White House staff and served as press secretary and chief of staff to House Republican Leader Bob Michel, prior to entering the private sector. He is co-author of a book, Surviving Congress, a guide for congressional staff, co-founder and member of the Board of the Congressional Institute, and a participant in the Congress of Tomorrow congressional reform project. Johnson is retired. He is married to Thalia Assuras and has five children and four grandchildren.