Nobody wants to be mean to a Muppet.
Congress has been systematically spending the United States Government into oblivion since 2001. As I detailed in a recent article ("The Debt Crisis: The Most Important Issue for 2018"), we have reached the point in American history at which we need to make difficult choices in order to eliminate the deficit and reduce the debt - or else confront the mathematical reality that our Federal government will financially collapse within a decade.
Yet our leaders appear to remain oblivious to the growing problem, which leads us to question how and why they have allowed our financial condition to deteriorate to this point and are STILL utterly incapable of restraining themselves when it comes to spending.
In the case of funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, all it takes is Kermit shedding a few tears and the next thing you know, it's funding as usual. It's what I call "The PBS Effect."
Before I go any further, I wish as much as anyone else that our Federal government had the resources to pay for everything, and I enjoy programming that is aired by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I grew up on Sesame Street, too. The reason I'm singling out PBS is because this periodic budget scuffle best illustrates how the beneficiaries of each and every line item in our budget play the game in order to preserve their little slice of Federal funding.
In March, 2017, President Trump proposed to cut funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which received $445 million in the preceding year's budget and provides about half of the funding for PBS. A frenzy of protest ensued, accusing the President of putting Big Bird in his crosshairs. Some even suggested that the President wanted to cut funding as a means of censoring what he perceives as a liberal media outlet (even though the Trump administration is not the first to propose funding cuts to PBS); most stressed the virtues of commercial-free, publicly supported programs.
But the crown jewel of every pro-PBS argument has been this: cutting a measly $445 million from something that does such wonderful things wouldn't reduce spending significantly enough to make any real difference. After all, it's only $1.35 per person, they argued (click here to watch it).
And, at least for the time being, the Trump Administration seems to have backed off.
This is how each recipient of Federal funding is marching the United States Government closer to its "Death by a Thousand Cuts." No, funding for PBS will not by itself be fatal; however, every time one of these battles for funding succeeds, it's one small step closer in that direction. The "Death by a Thousand Cuts" analogy is perfect in this case, since the continuing stability of our Federal Government going forward will be "Survival by a Thousand Cuts" - cuts of a different kind.
There is a way these same weak-willed politicians can succeed in making a thousand cuts when they lack the stomach to make just this one. Congress will balance the budget when it accepts and embraces the fact that we now need to prioritize our spending in order to survive.
This will provide our leaders with a weapon they have not used before in spending debates. We can demand that instead of telling us only that a federal program is valuable, that we be told why their program is more valuable than something that has been included in the budget. No pro-PBS argument asserted that funding for PBS is more important than, for example, health insurance for children. Nobody claimed that commercial-free episodes of Sesame Street are more valuable than security checkpoints at our airports. Is airing a rerun of NOVA more important than funding a week of cancer research? We should let the cancer researchers and the PBS pundits battle that out among themselves, not with the American taxpayer.
If we establish how much is a reasonable amount that we have available to spend, and we allocate how that money will be used, there will necessarily be a lot of line items that will need to be reduced or defunded. Forcing those who want Federal funding to compete with each other for our tax dollars will have many positive effects:
1. The debate will no longer assume unlimited resources and allow us to prioritize our spending.
2. Since no single program is targeted for cuts, no proponent of a defunded program can claim to have been singled out as a way to apply pressure to weak-willed politicians.
3. Those who want to squeeze into the budget will reduce their funding demands as much as possible.
4. Those who are likely below the threshold of necessity will start cultivating private sources of revenue.
The last of these points is why I call the problem "The PBS Effect." Everyone is familiar with the voiceover at the end of so many shows on PBS: "Paid for by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting . . . and Viewers Like You." If we as taxpayers quit paying the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, it will be viewers like us alone who will decide the fate of PBS. If we the people believe PBS is as important as it claims to be, PBS should trust us to dial in our pledges, break out our checkbooks and donate enough to ensure the survival of such a valuable commodity.
If PBS can't survive without Federal funding, it will be because PBS is not providing something that the public, rather than a few politicians with weak wills and loose wallets, have decided is worth the price.
That is a free market.