Who is going to pay for this?

Byline: | Category: Culture, Government, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) is facing criticism for his insistence that any federal disaster relief money for the victim’s of yesterday’s storms in his home state be offset by cuts somewhere else in the federal budget.

Online commenters are outraged.  One said:

“It does indeed take a special person to look at the situation in Oklahoma and immediate wonder “Who’s going to pay for this?”

While I’m pretty sure that “special” was intended snarkily, it does indeed take a special kind of person to wonder who is going to pay for this.  And thank goodness Senator Coburn is that kind of person.

The immediate response to any tragedy is to want to help.  And when you are the keepers of nearly $4 trillion budget, it is very easy to wish to throw a few billion at the problem as a genuine gesture of good will.  But the fact is that someone is going to pay for this.  And it very much matters who that someone is.

Should it be the taxpayers, who then don’t have that additional money themselves to spend on their own necessities of life?  A billion dollars of new spending paid for by taxes adds approximately $12 to the tax bill for a family of four.  That doesn’t seem like much, but that’s a billion dollars less spent on food, transportation, and clothing.  Not to mention, what do you do for the next tornado, hurricane, or wild fire.  Is it the taxpayers who should pay for this?

Should the cost be borne by more debt?  That saddles generations to come with the expense, since they will be paying back the billion dollars.  Or since we rarely retire debt, we just roll it over, it might be more accurate to state that future generations will make infinite recurring payments on the billion dollars of debt.  In effect, then, the cost will be diminished future spending and investment.  Is that who should pay to recover from the tornado damage?

Should the burden fall upon current recipients of government spending as Senator Coburn suggests?  If you ask me, that’s a less sympathetic lot than the other two choices of higher taxes or larger debt.  You can’t tell me that any sentient being (which means, apparently, the majority of Americans other than most of Sen Coburn’s colleagues) couldn’t find a billion dollars somewhere in the federal budget that couldn’t stand to be trimmed.

It’s easy to want to throw money around willy-nilly at problems but it really does take a special person to ask the uncomfortable but important question:  ”Who is going to pay for this?”

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