Patterico's Pontifications

1/8/2024

The Logical Result of Our Fiscal Irresponsibility

Filed under: General — JVW @ 12:06 pm



[guest post by JVW]

The Los Angeles Times (known ’round these parts as the Dog Trainer) has a story of tremendous local interest in today’s paper regarding Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory laid off 100 contractors last week and will scale back part of the first-ever effort to bring pieces of Mars to Earth, after a cost-cutting order from NASA that lawmakers called “short-sighted and misguided.”

In an email to staff on Thursday, JPL director Laurie Leshin said that NASA is bracing for a federal budget that could cap spending on the Mars Sample Return mission at $300 million this fiscal year — just 36% of the previous year’s $822-million budget and less than one-third of the $949 million the Biden administration requested for the program.

Yeah, you know, that sort of thing is bound to happen when the federal government gets up to $34 trillion in debt. Here’s a fun fact: back in 2019 — before the pandemic and the subsequent orgy of spending that followed — the Congressional Budget Office expected that we wouldn’t reach the $34 trillion mark until 2029. But that can-do attitude in Washington means that we’ve said past their estimate five years early. (This is a good reason why CBO estimates should always be taken with a grain of salt.) More from the Dog Trainer:

Last week’s layoffs of contract employees along with a hiring freeze are part of a lab-wide effort to reduce spending, Leshin wrote. In addition, NASA has ordered JPL to cease operations at the end of this month on a key project within the mission to bring a piece of Mars back to Earth, a joint project with the European Space Agency and one of the biggest and most complex missions undertaken at the lab.

Gosh, you mean we’re just now finding out that there are consequences for a failure to rein in spending? I was told that Modern Monetary Theory and minting trillion-dollar gold coins would keep the gravy train rolling. Do you think our legislators might be chagrined at how badly they have let us all down, or are they deflecting blame back on to the victims? Yeah, that’s an easy one:

The cuts come while Congress is still debating how it’s going to parcel out the 2024 fiscal year budget.

Lawmakers have criticized the agency’s decision to scale back on staff and science on the Mars effort before final numbers are in.

“NASA’s unilateral and unprecedented decision to cut funding for the Mars Sample Return mission, before Congress has finished its appropriations process, is having devastating real world consequences,” Rep. Adam Schiff said on Friday. “This critical mission was identified as NASA’s highest scientific priority by the decadal survey, and to back away now will relinquish important American leadership in space science.”

There you have it, according to Rep. Adam Schiff. We have no choice but to continue to fully fund every single initiative that any government agency and their assorted lobbyists deems as “critical” or is otherwise necessary for American exceptionalism. You may wonder if JPL’s assessments of the feasibility and the time-table for a successful mission been historically accurate. In a word, no:

An independent review of the project that NASA commissioned last year found that the mission was “not arranged to be led effectively,” and that there was a “near zero probability” that it would make its 2028 launch date. Even meeting a postponed launch date of 2030 would require more than $1 billion a year for at least three years starting in 2025.

The mission’s final price tag could be nearly $10 billion, the review concluded — more than double the $4.4 billion estimated in 2020.

If you have even the vaguest familiarity with how government works, it’s obvious what has happened. Four years ago the project leaders cobbled together some numbers which assumed absolute best-case scenarios with the project going smoothly and no delays or mishaps along the way. Does this remind you of any ridiculous public projects that have tied up the Golden State for the last fifteen years? And like the stupid bullet train, we now find that the Mars project is far more complicated than first sketched out, and it will cost nearly 2.5 times as much as the original budget estimates.

I’m going to help bail out this project. I’ll contact Rep. Schiff and suggest to him that that the latest $6 billion which Washington inexplicably gave to Sacramento for high-speed rail be instead diverted to JPL. Frankly, neither one of these projects should get a dime of taxpayer money until our political leaders drop the posturing and start addressing our problem with runaway spending, but I have friends who work at JPL so I’ll put my principles aside in this case (see how that sort of thinking also exacerbates the debt situation?).

Nowhere in this Dog Trainer article is mentioned the budgetary mess that is forcing us to pinch pennies at JPL. Last fiscal year we spent on the order of $400 billion just to service the interest on the debt. That is four hundred times the amount that would fully-fund JPL for this year. It’s over five times what we have spent helping Ukraine repel the Russian invasion. It’s almost half as much as our entire defense budget. It’s roughly three-tenths of what we pay out in Social Security obligations each year. Yet there doesn’t seem to be the least bit of understanding, either from the Dog Trainer or frankly from a huge chunk of the voting public, as to how our rising debt impacts our other spending priorities. As cantankerous as I am, I’m really not too jazzed about living in the Golden Age of Pessimism.

It’s a long way to November, and unfortunately it’s going to be a long, hard slog after that, no matter which nimrod we elect.

– JVW

27 Responses to “The Logical Result of Our Fiscal Irresponsibility”

  1. I’m just all sunshine and flowers these days.

    JVW (02c2b9)

  2. Oh, lookee here: the federal government has empty pockets for the Mars Sample Return, but found a billion dollars to help connect the LA Metro Train line to a brand-spanking new privately-owned stadium. Priorities, priorities. The stadium owners and the City of Inglewood need to match that grant with one billion of their own, and they have to show that they are ready for the onerous task of construction. The city is not quite known for its good governance as we have chronicled in the past, and the same mayor-for-life is running the show. Expect this line to the stadium to be over-budget and late.

    The Summer Olympics opens at the SoFi Stadium on July 14, 2028, pretty much fifty-four months from now. I’d say it’s at best even money that the train in finished, though at least there is some impetus to get it done by then.

    JVW (a605fd)

  3. Know where in article does it say the deficit is such a problem that you want your taxes raised back to where they were before the trump tax cuts. I call conservative BS! Cutting the IRS. medicade and child welfare solves all conservative problems. Want to cut border patrol, shut down federal prisons or defense spending? Aid to Israel?

    asset (a69f97)

  4. hat sort of thing is bound to happen when the federal government gets up to $34 trillion in debt. they try to cut the budget

    Things are not properly prioritized.

    This is the result of attempting to “rein in spending” from the top down.

    Modern Monetary Theory and minting trillion-dollar gold coins would keep the gravy train rolling.

    That was correct. Or just not electing Republicans would keep things going.

    The amounts of the cuts are arbitrary. It’s really just the same thing as decided to cut carbon emissions and figuring out how later.

    Sammy Finkelman (1d215a)

  5. The federal government could easily raise a few billion dollars by auctioning off development and mineral exploration rights in national parks.

    Rip Murdock (d2a2a8)

  6. asset (a69f97) — 1/8/2024 @ 12:39 pm

    Want to cut border patrol,

    huge Republicans want to change immigration laws in three respects: asylum, parole and rejection at the border, but they don’t want to spend any more money, except maybe on salaries. No more detention space, and not more immigration judges nd paying to charter airplanes to deport people to foreign countries.

    They want Biden and the Democrats to agree with them on everything, and then fail. It’ll be not catch and not release. Or release anyway by court order maybe after some people die in detention. Or (this is what Trump would do) make deals with dictatorships and Mexico, spending money from other sources.

    Biden just made a deal with Mexico. Mexico will transport people from near to border to southern Mexico. Maybe get more people killed along the way.

    Sammy Finkelman (1d215a)

  7. The only thing that makes sense is to tie every appropriation to a specific source of revenue or borrowing — and if the revenue falls short, not spend that, unless revenue is reassigned..

    Sammy Finkelman (1d215a)

  8. This is the only explanation that appears to make sense.

    https://youtu.be/UUWJWRn5m6E?si=svfpRdhWOcQm6AT6

    Simon Jester (5a7f77)

  9. Everybody forgot to mention how much they want to have their taxes raised to “deal” with the terrible deficit. Thats why you need a lefty like me here out of your bubble to point out the emperor has no cloths!

    asset (a69f97)

  10. And letting go of the contractors — specialists in implementing the systems that the boffins think up — means that virtually no progress will be made. The money will be spent on providing continuing employment and income for JPL management, senior staff and their support (aka overhead) while the projects languish as all the actual workers are laid off.

    Kevin M (ed969f)

  11. but found a billion dollars to help connect the LA Metro Train line to a brand-spanking new privately-owned stadium.

    Still, that line will have more paying customers in its first full year of operation than the Central Valley Boondoggle will have between now and the time it is scrapped.

    Kevin M (ed969f)

  12. Suggested initiative statute for CA:

    Establishing a felony for squandering more than a billion taxpayer dollars and another felony for conspiracy to do same, with a “no office of trust or profit” provision for those convicted.

    Kevin M (ed969f)

  13. Even though he never said it, Dirksen was right.

    Kevin M (ed969f)

  14. @9

    Everybody forgot to mention how much they want to have their taxes raised to “deal” with the terrible deficit. Thats why you need a lefty like me here out of your bubble to point out the emperor has no cloths!

    asset (a69f97) — 1/8/2024 @ 1:40 pm

    Reduce the rate of spending will help manage the deficit sprawl.

    You don’t need to raise more taxes.

    But, some services might have to be reduced or be shutdown… but, that anathema to your lefties, which is why you never mention it.

    whembly (5f7596)

  15. Everybody forgot to mention how much they want to have their taxes raised to “deal” with the terrible deficit. Thats why you need a lefty like me here out of your bubble to point out the emperor has no cloths!

    We’ve gone over this plenty of times, asset. There is no way to tax our way out of this fiscal mess. No matter how much you lefties want to believe it, restoring the Obama-level tax brackets would only raise a few tens of billions of dollars, or about three or four percent of our budget deficit.

    If lefties were serious about balancing the budget, they would be pushing for tax increases on all taxpayers, from the lowest income levels to the highest. That sort of broad-based tax increase stands the best chance of raising money. Of course it also puts a great deal of pressure on families who are already struggling with Biden inflation and diminishing opportunities, and if households have less disposable income then the economy is going to contract accordingly. Worst of all, those families might start asking really uncomfortable questions for progressives such as “Why are we spending so much money on illegal immigrants?” and “Why are there so many government employees?” So it’s far better for you guys to pretend that it’s just some mean ol’ billionaires hiding money from Uncle Sam, rather than coming to grips with the fact that we’ve reach the breaking point with the 90-year progressive plan to make the citizens dependent upon big government.

    JVW (4ec92a)

  16. Still, that line will have more paying customers in its first full year of operation than the Central Valley Boondoggle will have between now and the time it is scrapped.

    Except of course that one of the Holy Grails of progressive government is that the people should have “free” public transportation. It’s already heavily subsidized, or else that Metro bus ride would probably be more like $4 rather than $1.75. There’s already talk about making it free during the Olympics, and just as with the pandemic once you get the people used to free bus and rail rides it’s going to be difficult to start charging them again.

    JVW (007fbf)

  17. @14 I am all for cutting defense spending. Even the pentagon says 25% of military bases are not needed and are only kept open so congress who’s bases our in their districts doesn’t punish us. Its more like a 1/3 of bases. How many more aircraft carriers their escorts and submarines do we need to keep building? How many more f-35’s? How many more tanks? unless you want us to fight in the ukraine.

    asset (9ec97e)

  18. @15 the top 1% own 50% of the wealth in this country. The top 20% own 90% of the wealth so a wealth tax would be appropriate. Inheritance tax 25/50/90/% 50% income tax without deduction for over $100,000 income. 70% over a million 90% over 100 million. Value added tax and national sales tax to help fund medicare for all. That will put a dent in the deficit. Corporate establishment democrats donor class don’t want their taxes raised very little if at all. Analogy: The left like me were storming the bastille. The right like NJ Robb were defending it and wimp corporate establishment third way democrats like biden and pelosi were knocking on the door asking to be let in.

    asset (9ec97e)

  19. Cloward-Pivening the nation to oblivion.

    Keep supporting leftists.

    NJRob (eb56c3)

  20. Asset,

    you weren’t storming a darn thing. You expect to die before the left ultimately destroys this nation. Congrats.

    NJRob (eb56c3)

  21. Its more like a 1/3 of bases. How many more aircraft carriers their escorts and submarines do we need to keep building? How many more f-35’s? How many more tanks? unless you want us to fight in the ukraine.

    You understand that cutting defense spending has a disparate impact upon lower-income and minority communities, who rely on the opportunity to enlist in the military to get on-the-job training when they can’t qualify for college. Every dollar that is allegedly saved by cutting military spending will no doubt be reapportioned to useless “job training” programs favored by progressives. Given that, I would just as soon have them go into the military.

    The same goes for all of the defense budget that goes towards scientific research and weapons manufacturing. If progressives are just going to spend that money through other channels for scientific research and government-sponsored manufacturing initiatives, then again, I would just as soon have it funneled through defense.

    JVW (ff6628)

  22. @15 the top 1% own 50% of the wealth in this country. The top 20% own 90% of the wealth. . .

    Not even remotely true. Arguably it’s true worldwide, but not here in the U.S. which is far more egalitarian than government-controlled societies such as China or Saudi Arabia, or nations which have flirted with socialism such as India and Brazil. And yeah, I get this whole insistence that you’ll somehow impose inheritance taxes so that wealth doesn’t become multi-generational, but there are two problems with that. First is that black families are more and more acquiring wealth which they want to pass along as family legacies, so I’ll leave it to you to tell billionaires like Robert Smith, David Steward, Oprah, Jay-Z, Michael Jordan, and the rest of them that you’re going to confiscate their loot. Actually, I’m not all that worried about that because at the end of the day the billionaires will just hire tax lawyers and accountants way more clever than those that the government hires, and they’ll find ways of keeping Uncle Sam’s greedy hands off of it.

    JVW (b6cad0)

  23. Here we go again……

    ……….
    Following a deal with the Democratic-led Senate announced over the weekend, Johnson will try to rally his fellow Republicans this week around a plan for $1.66 trillion in overall discretionary spending for fiscal 2024.

    While Democrats have largely signaled their support for the agreement, hard-line conservatives have blasted the top-line figure, meaning that Johnson almost certainly will have to rely on Democratic votes to pass the measure in the House, where the GOP has a narrow 220-213 majority. Former speaker Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) was able to muscle through a short-term spending bill in September and avert a government shutdown, only for eight Republican rebels to then engineer his ouster.

    Johnson noted Sunday that he now has an even smaller majority than when McCarthy was the speaker. “We deal with the numbers that we have,” Johnson said on CBS. “It will be one of the smallest majorities in the history of the Congress, clearly.”
    ………
    Conservatives have indicated they would give Johnson time in his new office, and no one is raising the specter of trying to remove him, but grumbling has grown louder. Some are saying they won’t support the top-line figure and complaining that the deal doesn’t do anything to address border policy, a late demand some immigration hawks have thrown into the mix. They also criticize budgeting tricks they say paper over a lack of true cuts.
    ……..
    Johnson’s budget task is further complicated by his pledge to incorporate Republican-favored policy riders—measures potentially related to abortion and other hot-button issues—without alienating the Democrats whose support will be essential.
    ……..
    The overarching spending levels ended up at around the levels agreed to as part of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the deal between McCarthy and Biden that raised the nation’s debt ceiling in exchange for spending caps.

    Johnson is trying to win over Republicans by giving a wide berth to the most outspoken members of his conference, just as McCarthy tried, announcing in his letter that he would push for the policy riders on spending bills……..

    Republicans are divided on some mandates, such as one voiding a Food and Drug Administration policy allowing patients to obtain mifepristone, a drug used to induce abortion, directly from pharmacies rather than healthcare providers. That restriction is one reason that House Republicans were last year unable to pass a bill funding the Agriculture Department, which also carries the FDA funding.
    ………
    Johnson can lose no more than two Republican votes to pass legislation solely along party lines, assuming all lawmakers show up to vote. As a result, Johnson could be forced to rely heavily on Democratic votes, the same tactic he adopted late last year to steer must-pass legislation through the House. …….
    ………

    Rip Murdock (d2a2a8)

  24. They need to quit giving the military more than the military asks for every year. Half the discretionary spending is military.

    Nic (896fdf)

  25. @23The sooner it collapses the sooner we get to blow it up and start with a new agenda. The corporate rinos and corporate establishment democrats (dinos) have a lot to lose as their corporate donors fear. The right wants to blow it up and the left wants top pick up the pieces.

    asset (9ec97e)

  26. Like Jill Stein told Francisco Pizarro at the Itchibolax 500, if you no AOC your never short of money. She can get on the phone and get you $1 billion in one evening.

    nk (b096d3)

  27. JVW (007fbf) — 1/8/2024 @ 2:10 pm

    just as with the pandemic once you get the people used to free bus and rail rides it’s going to be difficult to start charging them again.

    In New York City there was no charge for using the buses fora few months in 2020 (subways were not free) but they went back to charging on Monday, August 31, 2020, with little trouble; only making announcements on buses and posting signs. I They also one time gave everyone free fares on everything at the end of a strike – which ws of no use to me, since I was using an unlimited ride card – but I think they extended the expiration date.

    https://www.nydailynews.com/2020/08/18/five-month-free-ride-is-over-mta-to-resume-collecting-fares-on-nyc-local-buses/

    Sammy Finkelman (c2c77e)


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