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The Illusion of Progress

BY GUEST OPINION | FEBRUARY 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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The recently proposed federal budget for fiscal 2012 has caused quite a stir. And for good reason — $3.7 trillion is no small chunk of change. But as lawmakers debate how to bring that number down, a growing theme seems to emerge: small potatoes.

You see, we Americans are blessed with a complex system of government that, despite having its flaws, seems to work exceptionally well. We often take proactive approaches if we see troubling trends emerging. If our education system is suffering, we try to “fix” it. If our economy is stagnant, we try to “fix” it. If we see a threat to our national security, we try to “fix” it.

So it comes as no surprise fiscal responsibility has come to the forefront of politics in Washington.
We greatly out-spend what we take in; in response, lawmakers across the land have begun clicking their pens, looking for interesting lines to strike through.

But are we actually trying to cut spending? Or are we trying to make it appear we’re making that attempt?

Take the recent controversy regarding the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as an example.

The F-35, hailed by the Pentagon as America’s multipurpose fighter of the future, has seen battle during its development. Although previously having an engine in development through United Technologies Corp., a separate engine program found its place in the proposed budget, with the latter being developed cooperatively by General Electric and Rolls-Royce at a cost of nearly $450 million to taxpayers for fiscal 2011.

Individuals from both sides of the aisle have questioned the rationale behind having two engine programs. Obama has staunchly opposed the program, many House GOP members have stressed its wastefulness, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has panned the program as “an unnecessary and extravagant expense.”

Indeed, even the Joint Chiefs have said a second engine isn’t necessary.

But at $450 million, the alternative engine program is relatively benign by Congressional standards.

And while cutting a half billion dollars’ worth of wasteful spending is commendable, it’s also relatively meager proportional to the budget overall (the program itself makes up roughly 0.000122 percent of the proposed budget).

So while axing small, unnecessary programs is a positive step, it’s not going to result in any substantial cuts.

To really strike at the deficit, issues such as social entitlements, aggregate defense spending, and a host of other expenditures must be addressed. The belt will need to be tightened — nigh, shrunk — and we’ll need to relearn the value of our money. It certainly won’t be easy, but it can be done if we try.

Until then, though, it appears we’re just making the illusion of progress.

That’s really all that matters — or so it seems in Washington.

Matthew Heinze is a junior at the University of Iowa.


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