Sunday, November 13, 2011

Debate Recap: Ignorance of Federal Budget

Somewhere in America are people who spend a good Saturday night sitting on the couch in the basement watching the Republican debate.  One such household is in the Midwest, specifically mine.  Why would the Republican party hold the foreign relations debate on a Saturday night?  It makes little sense from a media deadline sense - too late to make the Sunday papers, irrelevent by Monday, fodder for Sunday Morning Talkshows, widely ignored by churchgoers.  The timing seemed designed to be off the radar of the average Republican Primary Voter.  Which might be a good thing, as some pretty dumb ideas came to light.

First, in an invocation of the patron saint of the Republican Party, Ronald Reagan, Rick Perry seemed to indicate that Russia would be on the ash heap of history.  Soviet Union, maybe, but Russia seems to be  just fine and dandy and spreading it's influence around the world.

Michele Bachmann came up with the idea that U.S. sanctions on Iran alone is enough to bring the Iranian economy crashing down.  I can think of at least two countries more influential on Iran's economy than the U.S... one of which is supposed to be on the ash heap of history.

A lot of the Republican candidates are in favor of torture.  I'll just let that sit for a moment.  Republicans are in favor of torture.

Finally, in another Rick Perry moment, he is in favor of setting all foreign aid budgets to zero, and then making the case for increasing funding on a country by country basis.  What this shows is not only is Perry unaware that foreign aid exists to fund American interests (not always those of the countries to whom we give it), but that this is kind of how the federal budget process is supposed to work.  Lately, we haven't managed to pass budgets on time, but what's supposed to happen is that each department gives a detailed budget to the President, indicating which areas need more funding, and which needs less - new projects end, new ones begin.  Every year, these funding levels are voted on by Congress, unless a deal can be reached, where you get a series of stop-gap budget votes to just continue the previous budget levels.  If it feels like all we do is vote to continue last year's budget without examining what's in there, there's some truth to that.

Then, there's the dumb assertion that you can just zero out the Foreign Aid line in the budget - It's not like there is one line in the budget that reads "Foreign Aid".  We give money to foreign countries in the form of State Department funding, Military spending, Energy Department programs (like, securing spent nuclear fuel), Education grants (bringing smart future leaders to the US for education so they'll love us later... like the current President of Ireland), and Commerce Department officials who negotiate trade treaties to increase the supply of cheap dollar store knick-knacks for Wal-Mart,  and a host of smaller programs that advance American interests.  We don't give out blank checks - unless you are Israel.  Most foreign aid is targeted programs, far too little is USAid giving food to starving people.  The idea of starting each budget at zero is not even new, it came from Jimmy Carter of all people.

Only one person stood up to this moronic idea, but Jon Huntsman has no shot at the nomination.  That makes me both angry and scared.

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