Wanted: A New Spending Scorecard

July 25, 2011 - 3:49 AM

We need a new way of keeping score when it comes to government spending.

The only test is: How much did we spend on a program last year and how much more (or, rarely, less) are we spending this year.

There is no mention of whether the program in question is working well, badly, or not at all. There is no consideration of whether there is a more efficient way to deliver whatever services or goods are involved in the program.

The argument is that if a program is not living up to its potential, it must be because we are not spending enough money on it. Public schools are the best example of this thinking.

The other day WTOP, the all-news radio station in Washington ran a piece about how successful speed cameras have been in Maryland. According to the headline: 3 Md. speed camera zones issue more than 50,000 tickets

The piece describes how drivers will receive a $40 ticket if one of these cameras catches you going more than 12 miles per hour over the posted limit.

I received one of these presents from the State of Maryland, but I hold no grudges.

At $40 a pop, drivers have been hit for over $2 million in speeding fines.

The questions unasked and unanswered? Has safety improved? Have there been fewer accidents, fewer injuries, and/or fewer fatalities in the areas where the cameras have been installed?

Dunno. It's all about the money.

If Major League Baseball were scored the same way, the team with the most home runs would win its division. As it happens, the team with the most home runs through last night is the New York Yankees who, unfortunately find themselves three games behind the Boston Red Sox who are in third place among Major League teams in that category.

It is the teams with the most wins that get into post-season play.

As of last night there was still no debt limit deal but it looks to me like the only people who have their fingers hovering over the panic button are Americans in Washington, DC and on Wall Street.

We had been told that Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Oh) would have a statement about a new deal prior to 4 PM yesterday so that the Asian markets wouldn't panic and suffer a "flash crash."

There was no announcement of a deal.

Nevertheless, as I type this - shortly after 9 PM Sunday - no index in the U.S., Europe nor Asia - actual or futures - is moving strongly in one direction or another.

Not deal, but no panic.

Yesterday, the Administration's resident moron, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, said, "This is a critical test for Congress and this is a critical test for the Republican leadership in Congress because the eyes of the world are on us."

Geithner is so eager to get out of Dodge and back up to the warm embrace of cocktails in the Hamptons with his pals on Wall Street that he apparently forgot that Nevada Democrat Harry Reid holds the title of Senate Majority Leader because Democrats control the Senate.

The major problem confronting us is not that Republicans and Democrats can't get along. Republicans and Democrats have rarely gotten along.

If you think that this is an all-time low for interparty relationships, remember that it has been over 155 years since Congressman Preston Smith Brooks (D-SC) walked onto the floor of the U.S. Senate and whacked Sen. Charles Sumner (R-Mass) over the head with his cane.

These guys are not even close to breaching that benchmark for interparty (much less inter-cameral) crankiness.

The major problem is, we are scoring this all wrong. The current thinking rewards inefficiency, redundancy, and outright theft while it punishes anyone who tries to come up with a way to spend taxpayers' money more wisely.

If the plan for the future of Medicare proffered by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) will allow health care to be delivered to senior citizens more efficiently, we should embrace it rather than condemn it because it will cost less.

The issue shouldn't be how much (or little) it will cost; the issue should be how well (or badly) it will work.

In short, we need a new national scorecard.

On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the WTOP speed camera piece, to Timothy Geithner, and to the caning episode in the U.S. Senate. Also a pretty good Mullfoto from over the weekend and a Catchy Caption of the Day.