Federal spending is out of control. Now, that's something we can all agree on, right?

Federal spending is out of control. Now, that’s something we can all agree on, right?

Actually no — spending is not out of control; Congress has control of spending, it just doesn’t like admitting it. Oh, there’s the frequent whine that “we don’t even have a budget!” Said outrage comes from the House, in Republican control, and from the Senate’s GOP caucus. The House sends over a budget every now and then, true, but of late it’s been a budget it knows that Senate Democrats (and more than one Republican) cannot abide and therefore will never see the light of day. Or the moon and stars. In reality there is a budget — there has to be — in the form of resolutions permitting spending at (mostly) pre-approved levels, which is a kind of budget. Congress, the power of the purse — revenues and expenditures, both.

But back to the matter of cutting spending: with the exception of a handful who argue we need not less but more federal spending to blast us out of the recession, and I don’t know of any in Arkansas, or the South, most federal legislators agree it has to be scaled back. The deficit, the debt, you know. We can’t afford to make everybody happy, can’t do everything, government shouldn’t be a nanny, self-reliance built this country, let the people keep more of their money, etc. One or more of those slogans drips from the tongues of each member of the Arkansas delegation, our four in the House and two in the Senate, with each press release, each interview, every Rotary or Chamber speech.

Until comes the time to make cuts.

If you’re among those who believe there isn’t enough bi-partisanship in Congress, you’ve no experience in reducing Washington spending. Cutting defense spending can be politically ruinous for those who have to do it (members of Congress) so they fight it fang and claw, warning of dire consequences for national security; and those guys in the Pentagon, who are in charge of it, what do they know? So we have all six Arkansans in Washington, even Rep. Rick Crawford, the Republican deficit hawk who sits for the First District, far removed from Sebastian County, demanding the generals re-think their assessment that the A-10 fighters of an Air Guard wing at Fort Smith are strategically expendable. Says the district’s former congressman, now U.S. Senator John Boozman, the 188th’s mission is “cost effective…with a track record of success.” For Rep. Steve Womack, keeping the aircraft in Arkansas is “My first priority.” Which brings us to another large-scale attempt to hold down spending, the effort by the Postal Service to close thousands of small offices it says it can’t afford. As did his fellow Arkansans in Congress, Crawford demanded that tiny post offices be kept open, even introduced a bill to prevent their closing. Crawford’s sprawling district would lose 100 of them, slightly less than half the number on the Arkansas hit list. His legislation would spare those not within eight miles (!) of another postal facility. It did not specify how much less money the cash-strapped Postal Service could save by keeping them open. Nor did his central Arkansas colleague, Rep. Tim Griffin, in a press release expressing confidence that “the best path forward for the USPS lies in bold reform not, another expensive Washington bailout.”

Nonetheless, the Postal Service has predictably backed off and instead will operate many of its stations “on reduced schedules,” which Sen. Mark Pryor called “a win for small communities who were about to lose their post offices entirely.” True enough. Added Pryor: “I will continue to work with Arkansas communities to ensure their voice is heard before changes occur,” including those voices who gather at post offices to complain about government spending. Even a lame duck, Fourth District Rep. Mike Ross, made his voice heard, declaring he had “strongly opposed” the closures, for both their impact on rural residents and for damaging the Postal Service’s “competitiveness.”

And more: the Farm Services Administration announced this week that it intends to close a handful of its 61 offices in Arkansas, including those in mostly urban Pulaski, Faulkner and Benton counties. You guessed it — the state’s congressional delegation vows it will go to the mattresses before any are lost.

Don’t cut him, don’t cut me, cut that fellow behind the tree.

A balanced budget amendment? You’ve got to be kidding.

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Steve Barnes is host of Arkansas Week on AETN.