Running scared

Members of Congress return to Washington today after a 10-day recess, having left many budget issues in limbo.

For at least the time being, elected officials are apparently scared about spending as usual, given the current political climate.

Oh, that this were a long-term trend. But at the very least, it should embolden the few members of Congress who actually practice fiscal restraint and understand that unless the nation gets a handle on its expenditures, the country is headed for ruin.

"For 10 years, Democrats and Republicans have told people we can have anything we want and didn't have to really pay for it," Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., told McClatchy Newspapers. "Now people realize that we do have to pay, and it's difficult."

Thus the fate of a number of spending measures remain unclear as the November election approaches. Lawmakers have yet to address expiring unemployment benefits, the fate of a summer jobs program for poor kids, scheduled Medicare cuts to doctors and a Democratic-led initiative to subsidize state public-sector payrolls.

"They ask, 'How can we keep doing this?'" Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said of his constituents and Washington's voracious appetite for spending.

The deficit will likely top $1.5 trillion this year. Many Americans are understandably concerned -- and have expressed themselves through political vehicles such as the Tea Party movement -- that the current path is unsustainable.

Does that mean the Democratic strategy of doling out cash to create as many dependent constituencies as possible in order to a nourish a permanent power structure has run its course? Hardly. Dependency is a difficult cycle to break -- and the president has made no bones about his penchant for wealth redistribution and his fealty to the welfare state.

But the nation's current mood should at least be an inspiration to Republicans and others who have been struggling to impose fiscal sanity on the beltway for decades.

"If Congress continues to borrow money we don't have, we are going to experience a Greek-like collapse, but worse. Unlike Greece, no one will bail out America," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who has been Washington's most ardent spokesman for spending restraint.

That's a message the GOP needs to scream from the hills between now and November.