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Misplaced priorities

9/4/2013

With the nation's debt quickly approaching $17 trillion, there are not many citizens to be found who wouldn't agree the United States is living beyond its means.

Where people differ, however, is which programs or services naturally should be cut or eliminated in order to begin bringing government budgets under control. Even those differences have a common thread running through them: Make sure the cuts don't take anything away from me.

And that makes sense. It would be a foolish person, indeed, who wouldn't argue his or her self-interest. A farmer, for example, might be extremely interested in preserving CRP payments but not care less if an investment bank receives tax credits on capital that is parked overseas. That same lending institution might not have a vested interest in the prevailing minimum wage, while a fast-food restaurant would. Examples are not hard to come by.

As anarchy would erupt if it were up to each person to plead their own case, we utilize a representative form of governance to settle claims between competing interests.

But the playing field is anything but level. Lobbyists have made sure of that. And we wouldn't expect anything different, for they're guided by self-interest as well.

Who can afford their own lobbyist? Not your average citizen residing in northwest Kansas. Sure, most people wouldn't hesitate bending the ear of U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran or State Rep. Sue Boldra if they ran into them at a Chamber of Commerce event, and most likely they'd have a pleasant conversation.

We would submit a face-to-face promise to look into something will never hold sway in either Washington, D.C., or Topeka if put up against campaign contributions from an organization seeking the opposite. For the record, we're not holding out either Moran or Boldra as examples of anything other than likely to be seen at the Hays Welcome Center.

But when it comes to debt reduction, decreasing deficits or controlling spending in any fashion, we don't see many elected officials arguing to do anything about corporate welfare. It's really not discussed much -- if at all.

What does receive a lot of attention is individual assistance.

Just this week, state leaders have decided that some 20,000 unemployed Kansans will be cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program unless they find a job working at least 20 hours per week. Topeka could have kept the program intact for these people with the federal government picking up the tab, but opted otherwise.

"We know that employment is the most effective way to escape poverty," declared Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore.

Gilmore's hard-heartedness was applauded by Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.: "As a nation, we must rein in out-of-control spending. Implementing these reforms will help get us back on track to reducing our deficits and promote paychecks over welfare checks."

Huelskamp is almost giddy in his callousness.

While we support the concept of having every able-bodied U.S. adult working, it's not practical. Have you noticed any large industries moving into northwest Kansas of late? Neither have we. You can't pay them enough to come to an area with such low unemployment.

Most economists readily agree that 4 percent unemployment is "full" employment. If there aren't idled workers at the ready, economies can't transition. Which is why state and federal governments reluctantly agreed to provide benefits so these necessary unemployed individuals wouldn't starve awaiting their next job.

Even worse, in our minds, is the conversation itself. We castigate individuals receiving any kind of assistance while ignoring large corporate interests that receive the lion's share of redistributed tax dollars. Simply follow the money. Who's helping shape government policy in Washington and Topeka? Certainly not the laid-off 45-year-old whose receiving a hundred dollars monthly for pre-approved food items. It's the large business that siphons billions of dollars annually straight to its bottom line.

And elected officials simply go with the flow. America, and Kansas, have lost their moral compass. Have we no shame?

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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