BREAKING: Rep. Jason Chaffetz proposes spending $740B/year to combat gun violence

NOTE: I originally posted this at 3:00pm October 1st. Shortly after that, I heard the news about the Oregon massacre. I seriously debated changing the headline, but decided that it was completely appropriate under the circumstances. If you disagree...well, we just have to disagree.

In 1991, conservative writer/humorist P.J. O'Rourke wrote a book called, fittingly enough, "Parliment of Whores". It was, as the title explains, "A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government". The 9th chapter is entitled "Would you kill your mother to pave I-95?" The main point of this chapter, as you can probably imagine, is that there's a limited amount of money in any budget which can be set aside for various programs and departments, which in turn means that Tough Choices have to be made all the time:

The other secret to balancing the budget is to remember that all tax revenue is the result of holding a gun to somebody's head. Not paying taxes is against the law. If you don't pay your taxes, you'll be fined. If you don't pay the fine, you'll be jailed. If you try to escape from jail, you'll be shot. Thus I--in my role as citizen and voter--am going to shoot you--in your role as taxpayer and ripe suck--if you don't pay your share of the national tab.

Therefore, every time the government spends money on anything, you have to ask yourself, "Would I kill my kindly, gray-haired mother for this?" In the case of defense spending, the argument is simple: "Come on, Ma, everybody's in this together. If those Canadian hordes come down over the border, we'll all be dead meat. Pony up." In the case of helping cripples, orphans and blind people, the argument is almost as persuasive: "Mother, I know you don't know these people from Adam, but we've got five thousand years of Judeo-Christian-Muslim-Buddhist-Hindu-Confucian-animist-jungle-God moarlity going on here. Fork over the dough."

But daycare doesn't fly: "You're paying for the next-door neighbor's babysitter, or it's curtains for you, Mom."

Of course, O'Rourke is a Conservative, which means that to him, larding up the defense budget (currently sitting at roughly $600 Billion as of 2015, about 2.3x as high as it was in 1991 (and still 36% higher even after being adjusted for inflation) is more necessary than spending, say, $30 billion (over 5 years) to provide federal block-grant funding for universal preschool programs.

To O'Rourke, the former is a "simple" argument, while the latter "doesn't fly". OK; I obviously strongly disagree with him, but his larger point is certainly valid: Government spending, like any other spending, is a matter of prioritization. If you want to increase funding for Program A, you have to either:

  • A. Fund it by reducing the amount of funding for Program B,
  • B. Fund it by increasing the amount of revenue you generate via taxes/fees on (Group X),
  • C. Not fund it at all, and charge it to the National Credit Card (aka, the Federal Debt), or
  • D. Some combination of A, B & C.

Needless to say, Republicans and Democrats tend to disagree over not just which programs should be funded at which levels (or at all), but which combination of A, B & C they want to use to fund those well as which individuals or organizations constitute "Group X". None of this is particularly controversial.

Anyway, I was reminded of this chapter of O'Rourke's book because of one additional story I read about from yesterday's appallingly misogynistic and flat-out idiotic Congressional witchhunt (er..."hearing") in which Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards was grilled for five hours by a slew of Republican Representatives about the thoroughly debunked, horribly-edited anti-abortion videos making the rounds over the summer, and the funding of the organization.

Yesterday I tore to shreds the offensively stupid "chart" presented by GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz, as did, Kevin Drum of Mother Jones and numerous others. "Fish in a barrel" comes to mind.

However, I'm talking about an earlier incident which happened right at the opening of the circus:

Tearful Jason Chaffetz opens Planned Parenthood hearings by suggesting the organization killed his parents

Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz opened the House’s Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s hoax-inspired hearings into Planned Parenthood by tearfully implying that the organization is responsible for the deaths of his parents, both of whom succumbed to cancer.

Chaffetz — who was on “Fox & Friends” earlier that morning sounding very confused about the evidentiary value of the videos behind the hearings — began by noting that his wife works for a plastic surgeon who treats women who have had mastectomies. He lamented, and not for the last time, that Planned Parenthood doesn’t perform mammograms, though he neglected to mention that like almost all gynecologists in private practice, the organization refers women to a radiological center for that particular procedure.

“Cancer in this country kills about 1,500 people a day,” Chaffetz said. “A day — and yet our federal government only spends $5 billion to fight it. If they were shooting 1,500 people a day, if there were rockets coming in, we would be fighting this with everything we’ve got.”

His point, of course, is that “we don’t spend enough on cancer,” instead wasting tax-payer dollars on Planned Parenthood. “The question before us is does this organization, does Planned Parenthood really need federal subsidy? Does it need federal dollars?”

“Every time we spend a federal dollar,” he added, “what we’re doing is we’re pulling money out of somebody’s pocket and we’re giving it to somebody else.”

Chaffetz estimated that if Planned Parenthood were defunded, the federal government could “quadruple” the amount it spends on cancer research, possibly leading to cures that could have helped those stricken with the disease, like his parents.

Holy crap on a stick. The stupid is strong with this one.

First things first, Rep. Chaffetz: I'm terribly sorry to hear about your parents, but before you try and claim that I'm being "insensitive" in connecting it with O'Rourke's chapter title, know that my own father also died of cancer over 25 years ago, so fuck you very much. Besides, O'Rourke's one of yours, so if you have a beef with his example, you can take it up with him.

Secondly, your point about "they" (who's this mysterious "they"?) "shooting 1,500 people a day", guess what? According to NBC News, as of 2013, 289 people were being shot every day in the United States (of which 86 die every day). Christ, even as I was typing this another dozen or so people were murdered (and a score more wounded) in a mass shooting in Oregon.

I realize that 289 isn't nearly as high as 1,500, but that's still 19% of your example. Does that mean that we should "fight gun violence" with at least 19% of "everything we've got"? Does "everything we've got" mean the entire U.S. Federal Budget? If so, 19% of that would be around $740 Billion per year. Are you saying that we should spend $740 Billion per year on stopping gun violence? Because given the dozens of mass shootings so far this year (as well as the numerous highly suspicious shootings of unarmed civilians, especially the black kind, by police in recent years), I might be willing to sign on for that.

Third point: Judging by your math skills, your idiotic "chart" screw-up is more understandable. If, as you say, the U.S. federal government "only" spends $5 billion per year to "fight" cancer, and the federal budget reimburses Planned Parenthood $540 million per year for services rendered, how exactly could defunding PP result in cancer research funding being "quadrupled"? Wouldn't shifting every penny from Planned Parenthood over to cancer research only increase that funding by about 11%??

Fourth point: Your moronic "chart" aside, the fact remains that Planned Parenthood did perform (or facilitate) 936,000 cancer screenings & related preventative services in 2013, out of 10.26 million total procedures. Their annual report confirms that cancer-related services make up about 9% of their total work; I don't know if that's by dollar amount or service, but if it's in dollars, that's $49 million already being spent on "cancer research" per year. So really, you have to subtract that from the 11% increase noted above.

The fifth, and final point, of course, is that if you really wanted to "fight cancer" by "pulling money out of somebody's pocket", how about defunding the $2.9 Billion per year in subsidies given to the largest coal field in the United States, the Powder River Basin?

Coal subsidies are costing US and Australian taxpayers billions of dollars a year, according to a new report.

The research examined the subsidies given to coal production in the US’s largest coal field, the Powder River Basin, and found they totalled $2.9bn (£1.9bn) a year. This equates to $8 per tonne, almost 25% of the sale price.

Ending the subsidies would lead to cuts in coal use equivalent to shutting up to 32 coal-fired power stations, the researchers found, leading to a large reduction in carbon emissions.

Not only could you increase the "fighting cancer" budget by 58% (over 5 times as much as defunding Planned Parenthood!), but you'd also be getting rid of tons of carbon emissions, which itself would help cut the lung disease cancer rate significantly (as well as black lung disease, global warming, etc etc...) That's win-win for everyone!!

Somehow I don't think you'll take this advice, but I wanted to at least throw it out there.