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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Perhaps the best part of election season is the debate of ideas hashed out in local papers by Iowa politicos. The recent exchange in the pages of The Gazette was lovely. State Sens. Pam Jochum and Joe Bolkcom penned a guest column, “Federal bucks boost Iowa’s budget,” in response to John Hendrickson’s, “Conservative budgeting works in Iowa.”
The senators claim “the truth is that Iowa’s economy is in much better position because of the hard work of President Joe Biden and Congresswoman Cindy Axne.” That’s only partially true as a significant part of funding Iowa received in 2020 was doled out while Donald Trump was president, but Biden did pass out his fair share of stimulus money.
To the Gov. Kim Reynolds’ credit, she refused much of the money the federal government offered and rolled back unemployment benefits that many experts and business owners cited as discouraging workers from returning to jobs. But Jochum and Bolkcom make a valid point that it’s hypocritical to criticize irresponsible spending while taking that supposedly irresponsibly spent money straight to the state of Iowa piggy bank. I completely agree that it’s not fiscally conservative to accept hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money while sitting on a platform of lower taxes and less government intervention, but almost every conservative elected will take money when it will help their community.
Taking a step back, does it even matter to the posterity of the country that Reynolds passed on millions of dollars offered by Biden? Is America any better off financially considering our decades of irresponsible spending habits? The $95 million Reynolds passed on earlier this year is a drop in the bucket compared to the national deficit.
Is the correct budgetary attitude, “If you’re already having a cupcake you may as well add frosting”? I don’t think so, but I understand why Republicans and Democrats at every level of government engage in morally dubious debt spending.
I argued in an October Gazette column that Iowa’s part-time Legislature discourages fame-seeking politicians and encourages public service for the sake of serving the public and not one’s self image. This type of positive incentive structure is presently not possible in Congress given the nature of what should be productive federal House and Senate committee meetings to become clippable campaign sound bites and tweet dunks on colleagues, producing an endorphin rush of momentary fame for staffers and members of Congress.
However, representatives have a duty to serve the interests of their constituents. Hypothetically, if a million-dollar airplane landing strip funded by the federal government would be an inefficient use of funds and fail a cost-benefit analysis test, it would still be good for one’s congressional district to have construction employment for a few months and an improved airport.
In my ideal world, Congress would pass some sort of budgetary policy package tomorrow and discourage cameras on the House floor and in committee meetings. Frankly, that will never happen.
What we can do as citizens is exactly what Jochum and Bolkcom did: talk about where states are sourcing these federal funds from and realize that we cannot spend forever — eventually America will have a financial reckoning and we ought to take care before that happens.
At some point in the future, endless spending will lead to financial collapse. America is not too big to fail and we need to protect this great nation with thoughtful spending practices and electing leaders who are comfortable saying “No, thank you,” to funds, even if it jeopardizes their public approval rating.
Patricia Patnode is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: email@example.com