February of 2011 may prove to be a turning point in the direction this country is heading. There may no longer be a choice. In early March the Congressional Budget Office released a report that said the deficit for the month of February alone was $223 billion. At an annualized rate, that would put the deficit for the year at a more than $2.6 trillion. That’s the deficit—for just one year! It will probably end up between $1.5 and $2 trillion, but that is still a stunning figure. It was less than 50 years ago that the total U.S. annual budget exceeded $100 billion for the first time. The next budget will be in the neighborhood of $3.7 trillion.
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But February 2011 was a turning point for another reason as well. Push came to shove, literally and figuratively, in the state of Wisconsin, and has spread across the heartland of the country, reaching Indiana and Ohio, with signs of life in a number of other states as well. Fourteen Democratic Wisconsin state senators crossed the border into Illinois in order to avoid having to vote on Governor Scott Walker’s “budget-repair” bill that was intended in part to alter the relationship between public employee unions and the state and localities of Wisconsin. It has been a painful but revealing experience that has brought issues to light that have been simmering for many years.
The lesson of the turmoil is that elections have consequences. Jon Meacham, then-editor of Newsweek, wrote in February 2009 that “without a great deal of fanfare, the America of 2009 has become a more socialist country.” He thought that was a good thing. The cover story that week was, “We are all Socialists Now.” That same month President Obama and Congress passed the $787 billion “stimulus” bill without any Republican support, and the phrase that captured the zeitgeist was, “We won, you lost, get over it.”
That same month, Rick Santelli of CNBC called for a Tea Party revolt. These were some of the key events in the run-up to the turmoil and gridlock that is paralyzing our country today. In November of that same year, Republican Chris Christie easily defeated incumbent Governor John Corzine in New Jersey, a heavily Democratic state, in which President Obama had campaigned for Corzine. He won by promising to cut taxes and to take on the public employee unions. And then the Democrats pushed through ObamaCare in ways that seemed rather undemocratic. Yet another milestone on this path was last July, when the Los Angeles Times broke the story of Bell, California, a poor suburb of L.A. with a population of about 36,000, where, it was revealed, that the salaries and pensions of city employees were huge. Several were making well more than the U.S. President, who makes $400,000 a year. The City Manager received nearly $800,000 a year. With benefits, he received $1.5 million in one year, and with his pension he was set to receive $1 to $1.5 million a year. His assistant made over $375,000 a year, and the police chief was paid $457,000. They all resigned in the wake of the scandal, but it brought to the surface a troubling aspect of American life. What was going on in state and local governments, and by whom and how was it supposed to be paid? How extensive were these government rip-offs of the American people?