Subsidize this

Perhaps the one area -- if not the only area -- in which our beltway denizens can claim proficiency is spending other people's money.

But, then again, who wouldn't be good at that?

Trouble is, members of Congress haven't just perfected the skill, they've run it into the ground.

As the federal budget shortfall soars to previously unheard of levels, as Democrats sit on the precipice of creating a brand new multitrillion-dollar health care entitlement, the Obama administration moves forward with its sham of a deficit commission.

If the 18 members of the panel are serious about getting a handle on spending -- rather than just soaking the rich and middle class with tax hikes -- a good place to start would be to call the Cato Institute's Chris Edwards in to testify.

Mr. Edwards, the think tank's director of tax policy, noted this month that on Jan. 22 the federal government added its 2,000th subsidy program. "The entire nation is jumping aboard Washington's gravy train," he notes in a recent issue of the Heartland Institute's Budget & Tax News.

The number of federal subsidy programs -- which dole out taxpayer money to individuals, businesses, nonprofits, and state and local governments -- has almost doubled since 1975. The Department of Health and Human Services leads the way offering almost 400 different subsidy programs. The departments of Agriculture, Interior and Education round out the top four purveyors of taxpayer handouts.

All this, Mr. Edwards points out, comes at a price -- a price beyond what Washington lifts from our wallets.

"As the federal octopus extends its tentacles even further," he writes, "state governments are becoming no more than regional subdivisions of the national government, businesses and nonprofit groups are becoming tools of the state, and individualism is giving way to a more European desire for cradle-to-grave dependency."