Opinion | Paul Olson: Foolish versus wise spending

I had a Christmas fantasy wish list — a big-screen TV, a week in Maui, a Tesla — but I had to settle for less, just a scarf and snowshoes.

Democrats had a wish list of programs they had hoped would be approved by Congress in the Build Back Better Act. It started as a bloated $3.5 trillion bill and was greatly pared down to the $1.75 trillion plan that was recently passed by the House.

In December, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said he would not vote for the bill because of concerns about the long-term funding of the act, and its impact on the nation’s debt and inflation, stalling passage of the bill due to the 50-50 split between parties in the Senate.

Perhaps Manchin did us all a favor by making everyone in Congress pause and think carefully about this very expensive bill when the national debt is already at nearly $30 trillion.

Many in Congress give little thought to where the money comes from to pay for their dream projects. The dollars must come from either borrowing or taxes, thus adversely impacting interest rates and the growth of the U.S. economy.

Manchin is an unusual Democrat, being elected in a state that voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. Other Democrats should take notice of Manchin’s more conservative approach to spending and how his desire for more fiscal responsibility in government appeals to voters in his state.

Both major parties have shown themselves to be poor money managers. Huge military spending bills are passed year after year with little debate. According to a recent New York Times report, Medicare will be insolvent in 2026 and Social Security underfunded in 2033 due to Congress failing to properly fund these programs for decades. Because of the lack of bipartisanship, few federal bills are carefully crafted to make them truly effective, thus it is often better for government to just do nothing.

An example of when it is appropriate for government to do something is during an emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Summit County government has received over $20 million in grants from the federal and state governments to deal with the pandemic. This aid was used for COVID-19 testing, administering vaccines, maintaining bus services, workforce housing and assistance to businesses.

Without this money to our community, essential health and public services would have been severely reduced, COVID-19 testing and vaccinations would have slowed, and businesses and their workers would have suffered much more than was the case. Though I favor fiscal restraint in government, when the nation is faced with potential for an economic meltdown and widespread deaths, one’s political views become more flexible.

Instead of feeling frustrated about the chaos and lack of cooperation in Washington, it would be more constructive to focus your attention on local government, which affects you on a daily basis.

Summit County’s elected officials each have wish lists for ways to spend your sales and property taxes. Some things are necessary, others not so much. Whether you are a Democrat, Republican or independent voter, I would urge you to become better informed about the governing of Summit County, your town and public schools.

Budgets and meeting agendas are available online. The Summit Daily News covers important public spending issues.

Communicate (politely) with officials if you have ideas for making government more efficient, but also take note of the things done well by our government employees. Our county runs very smoothly: The community is safe, the streets are plowed, and the buses run on time even though local governments have had to deal with COVID-19, lack of housing and a worker shortage.

Make a 2022 New Year’s resolution to be a better informed Summit County resident.

Paul Olson

Paul Olson’s column “A Friendly Conservative” publishes biweekly on Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. Olson has lived in Breckenridge since 1995. Semiretired, he works at REI in Dillon and enjoys snowboarding, Nordic skiing and hiking. Contact him at pobreck@gmail.com.