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Fiscal Discipline

I am, as my friends, family and girlfriend can tell you, kind of cheap. Not super-cheap, not inhibiting-my-social-interactions cheap, just I-live-in-New-York-go-to-grad-school-and-work-at-a-non-profit cheap. You know what I’m avoiding saying right now, don’t you? Because in fact, I think this impulse might be in my blood; although I grew up in very comfortable circumstances, my mother is a compulsive coupon clipper, a woman who takes the leftover bread in the basket home with whatever anyone didn’t finish when we eat out, a woman who taught me to think it was totally normal to buy bras pulled from huge cardboard boxes six feet up tiny little hallways on the Lower East Side. I was aware of both the stereotype and the fact of over-privileged Jewish women with lots of cash (though I was to learn more later on in life), but to me, the relationship of my primary Jewish female role model to money was more about thrift than anything else. That, too, of course, comes out of a particular historical situation, and I could go on for a very long time, but let’s just say you should go read some Joyce Antler and leave it at that.

So fast-forward to my current far-left view of the world and, most obsessively, of my national government. I can see why there might be some conflict between an ethos of personal thrift and thinking that the government should spend a lot of money—goodness knows it has been pointed out to me. But I would like to clear the record on something here: I and many of my fellow lefties don’t want to see profligate spending towards no end. We don’t want the government to flush money down the toilet bowl (or for to renovate the toilet bowl, either); we do think that society that shells out cash for those who need it can be a more just society, although God knows where we got that idea. So, sometimes cash needs to be spent and, yeah, sometimes it can get to be a lot of cash. But, the same way I was sat firmly down and taught how to keep a checkbook, there needs to be some sense of accountability for how money is spent, and we need to spend it in the most productive way.

According to people way, way smarter than I, it turns out that tax cuts are not a good way to spend government money. This would be less of a problem if a) we hadn’t just spent about 40% of a huge-ass stimulus bill on them and b) they didn’t cost the government the same as all of our national defense. Yeah. Of course, I also just learned that for years, the wars we’ve been fighting haven’t been on the national budget. Instead, we’ve had a series of “Emergency Supplemental” appropriation bills, which let us pay a whole lot for things without having them show up on the budget, which strikes me as a liiiiiiiiiiiittle bit disingenuous. Kind of like doing a monthly budget and forgetting to include, I don’t know, your rent, and then mooching cash off of your family, friends and roommates when the bill-paying time of the month rolls around. As my personal hero likes to call it, “bullpuckey.”

But, fear no more, because at the same time that this new administration is spending loads of your cash on roads and tax cuts alike, they’re at least going to be honest about how much they’re spending. Calling the budget process in recent years an “exercise in deception,” President Obama has promised to spend lots of your money to try to keep the bottom from falling out of the economy, to be transparent about the actual cost of the two wars (remember them?) that we’re fighting, and to cut the deficit in half within four years. I have no idea how the heck that’s going to happen, but I would like to assure you, Mr. President, that my mom is ready by the phone if you ever want her two cents. I recommend her; you’ll just have to note those two cents down.

–Mel Weiss