There is an aspirin for the pain and suffering the White House and congressional budget negotiators have inflicted on themselves, and that is to eliminate wasteful spending.
It is an option frequently ignored, except by taxpayers, who are widely accused of wanting lower taxes while simultaneously refusing to accept cuts in Medicare, Social Security and similar benefits.But it is probably more accurate to ascribe to voters a logical goal, that of cutting wasteful spending, rather than the contradictory policy of which they have been accused, that of lower taxes and more spending.
There is hardly a family that doesn't understand the need for cutting, especially today. With recession coming, if not here, and with unemployment rising, they have been forced to retrench and live within their incomes.
Industry has been forced to do the same, to the extent that "downsizing" has become a fad word in the business lexicon. Even philanthropic groups have felt the pinch and have reluctantly limited their goals.
The same has been asked of government but seldom is there an answer.
In 1984, the President's Private Sector Survey on Cost Control, popularly called the Grace Commission after its chairman, J. Peter Grace, recommended $424 billion in cuts over a three-year period.
Last November, the General Accounting Office found $150 billion in program waste, fraud and financial mismanagement. Last spring, the Congressional Budget Office recommended reforms to yield savings of $60 billion in the first year.
As recently as last May the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, offered a list of $130 billion in cuts that its researchers said would cause minimal damage.
Some idea of why such cuts aren't made came from that latest analysis, by Scott Hodge, federal budget analyst for the foundation. He would ask Congress to break an addiction to deceptive, often deceitful porkbarrel spending.
To an aid package earlier this year for Panama and Nicaragua, for example, members of Congress tacked on their own special interest expenditures for local, domestic projects that had nothing to do with national interests.
Hodge and his researchers cite examples of "harmless" expenditures, such as financing a study of the causes of rudeness, lying and cheating on tennis courts and one seeking to determine why people fall in love.
Harmless? In themselves, perhaps so, but not in the damaging lesson they send, that spending is in and saving is out, and that misusing other people's money is acceptable so long as they remain unaware of it.
Besides, as members of Congress themselves concede, a little spending oft repeated adds up to a lot. That "lot" can be especially crucial to the economy in a recession attended by unemployment and bankruptcies.
Americans have been made especially aware of tax dangers from the lips of President Bush, whose comments have included the statement that "when the government raises a dollar in revenues, Congress spends a dollar fifty."
Perhaps, critics of waste are saying, voters aren't refusing to accept the pain of an austerity budget so much as they are trying to tell Congress that it must use public money wisely, honestly and with restraint.