As the new House convenes, the GOP caucus ought to pass around this story from yesterday’s New York Times on the effort to begin archeological restoration work in Babylon.
The story noted that “[i]n November, the State Department announced a new $2 million grant to begin work to preserve the site’s most impressive surviving ruins. “The grant from the United States will pay for repairs to channel the water away from the [Ishtar Gate’s] foundation, which stands several yards beneath the surrounding area.”
Most conservatives will support funding to stabilize Iraq, especially as the American force draw down.
And there might be an argument that financing a comprehensive program of archeology in Babylon could employ thousands while also laying the groundwork for a tourism industry in a free and stable Iraq.
But a $2 million grant seems almost comedic, especially against the backdrop of the enormous deficit and debt in the U.S. Note it is a year-end grant, and ask yourself if some harried State department functionary was simply trying to get the money out the door so a water diversion ditch in Babylon sounded good.
The trouble is the U.S. doesn’t have that money. It borrows it from creditors. That is bad enough, of course, but to spend it on a drainage ditch in Babylon?
This is one small example the culture of spending that the new House must tackle. Perhaps there is a grand plan and this report failed to sketch the entire, comprehensive plan that has been approved by higher-ups including Secretary Clinton. Perhaps General Odierno personally signed off on the reconstruction of Babylon as a crucial element in the Iraq transition before he returned stateside.
But in all likelihood it is just an expenditure, one of thousands, made by the Department of State in the name of improving relations with this or that state, which is in turn one of hundreds of appropriations made to the Department, which is in turn one of scores of appropriations made to executive branch agencies.
When federal deficits were below 4% of GDP such small numbers truly did not warrant the attention of Congress.
In an era of fiscal emergency when we are approaching the cliff and the debt is a staggering $14 trillion, every member of every agency has to be asking how to cut, not how to spend. Even if it means we don’t participate in the draining of the foundation of the Ishtar Gate.