Government Spending

Government Buy Nothing Days


What if they had a spending spree and nobody came? White House Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag took this week's lying about the economy duties. But into the expected vacuum of metaphorical nothingness — "green shoots" are out, "some glimmers of sun shining through the trees" are in — Orszag injected a rare planetoid of interest. Says the Wall Street Journal:  

He urged patience when it came to seeing results from the government's $787 billion economic-stimulus plan, noting that only $100 billion has been allocated since the legislation was enacted three months ago.

One favorite trick for avoiding disaster at the level of state budgets is to keep authorized expenditures cooped up by never writing the checks. This practice can go on for years or decades, depending on the lobbying power of the people who stand to gain from the spending. A former California budget director once set my mind at ease when I asked about the hundreds of billions of dollars in bonded debt the ballot-initiative mobocracy has committed the state to. It turned out that only a small portion of those bonds had been issued. (And it's pretty stunning to consider that the Golden State's fiscal self-destruction would be even worse if anybody took an interest in honoring the will of the voters.) There's no reason you can't do the same stall at the federal level.

If you believe in the stimulus, of course, you should be scandalized at the slow pace of emergency-stimulus funding at a time when the economy is shedding more than 600,000 jobs a month. How many Americans have to resort to cannibalism before Washington provides us with the insulation, ankle bracelets and low-to-no-traffic airports we desperately need?

NEXT: NY Times: Prosecutors Blocking DNA Tests

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  1. Actually, they can’t do the same stall at the Federal level, because Congress somehow took it away. Not that I could see Obama actually impounding funds if the option were available to him.

  2. In theory, yes. In practice, federal agencies are amazingly slow at actually disbursing money, whether intentionally or not. Ask anyone who runs a contracts and grants office.

  3. Here the limitation is applied on the Debt to pay for the Expenditure, rather than the Expenditure. The powers to print money and raise debt reside in the Executive Branch. And Congress is not involved because President already has discretion over these funds, with very broad categories defined by the language of the stimulus act.

  4. A few posts late, but…

    Welcome back to H&R, Tim.

  5. Thanks, Russ. Good to be back.

    And when I say “The powers … reside in the Executive Branch” I really mean “The de fact powers reside…” That is, the Fed chairman and the Treasury Sec. work in harmony even in normal times, and especially so now.

  6. And of course by “de fact” I mean “de facto.” And dat’s da fact.

  7. In 1994, Kathleen Brown, as the Democrat nominee for Governor, attacked Gov. Wilson for not selling the bonds that had been authorized by voters.

    It still was not enough to get me to vote for Pete Wilson, who had agreed to tax hikes pushed by the Democrats in the legislature.

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