I sometimes get into debates with my fellow progressives over whether we should ever talk about the idea of waste in government sending. Some of my friends argue that we shouldn’t because it only reinforces conservative talking points but my view is very different that that. I believe that most Americans feel very strongly that there is waste in government spending, that we will never talk them out of that idea, and that when we ignore the subject, we leave that fertile ground wide open to conservatives to define what waste is on their own terms.
Then there’s this: there is a lot of waste in government spending. It’s just a fact we should deal honestly with. But here’s where the conservatives get it all wrong: it is not wasteful to make sure a hungry 8 year old gets a school lunch; it isn’t wasteful for an 85 year old with no pension to have their $15,000 a year in Social Security keep up with inflation, or to get decent health care through Medicare; it isn’t wasteful to invest in the future by teaching our kids, helping students go to college, and building roads and bridges. What is wasteful in government spending is when we directly subsidize huge corporate interests: sweetheart contracting deals, lobbyist-designed special tax loopholes, and direct subsidies to big profitable companies.
Far worse than simple corporate subsidy waste, though, is when we hand out money to companies to do things that actively harm us. One of the worst examples of this right now is the federal government, through the Export-Import Bank, is directly subsidizing overseas carbon-vomiting coal production. Because Ex-Im is handing out money to extract coal in places like Australia, this doesn’t even create American jobs. Meanwhile, it is going to contribute dramatically to over-heating the planet even faster. It is an obscenity that our government is doing this.