I've been so furious I could barely control myself only a few times. Once was during a visit to Washington, D.C., several years ago.
I'd stopped at a restaurant for lunch and, as I ate, I overheard a couple of guys at the next table. They were bureaucrats who had something to do with submitting their agency's budget to Congress. They had determined how much money the agency needed for operations during the coming year.
"We need to add a billion dollars to that figure," one suggested. He explained that while the money wasn't actually required, it would be nice to have it - and Congress probably would provide at least half the amount.
These fellows were discussing a billion dollars as you or I might try to bargain the price of a yard sale item down by a dollar or two.
And that's why the cost of government never will actually go down, despite all the promises we've heard during the past week or so. Neither Congress nor the president really controls the government. Bureaucrats do - because lawmakers and the chief executive allow it.
You may be aware of some of the tricks bureaucrats use to take as much of our money as possible. One is "spend it or lose it."
Near the end of a fiscal year, agency heads and their department managers take serious looks at how much they've spent, compared to the size of their budgets. If it looks as if their budgets won't be exhausted by the end of the year, spending sprees ensue. Equipment that isn't really needed is purchased. Grants that were turned down earlier in the year are approved.
Why is this done? Simple: The agency's budget for the coming year is calculated on a baseline that includes what was spent during the current year - plus generous estimates of the cost of new programs, plus generous estimates of the impact of inflation.
So, while Social Security recipients may not get increases in their checks some years, federal agencies will. Every time. If they by some chance do not, be assured they will find some way to cut services so members of Congress get lots of calls from angry constituents.
Consider this: The deal approved by Congress and President Barack Obama this week calls for $900 billion in spending cuts during the next 10 years. First, that's peanuts; it's less than the expected $1.4 trillion deficit for this year.
But more intriguing is the timing. Very little spending will be reduced during the coming fiscal year, the first of the decade-long deal. One estimate is the compromise will trim just $22 billion from spending next year.
Why is that? Because neither Obama nor lawmakers up for re-election in November 2012 want to get those angry calls from voters - and they know the bureaucracy will make them happen if more than a razor-thin portion of agency budgets is sliced in advance of the election.
Consider another number beside that $22 billion: By the government's own estimate, it will waste about $125 billion this year. That much money, invested prudently, would operate West Virginia state government in perpetuity.
Yet no one in Washington has the nerve to issue a simple mandate to the bureaucracy: Do what you did last year, but spend, say, 5 percent less accomplishing it. Don't even think of reducing services to the public or increasing the fees you charge. Don't shift the burden to local or state governments. Get this done or you're fired and we'll find someone else who can follow orders.
It happens all the time in the private sector. Never in government.
Unfortunately, here's the thing: Five percent won't do it. Our government now has to borrow approximately one of every three dollars it spends. So yes, we're all going to have to make some sacrifices, starting with our precious entitlements.
But why should Americans agree to that when they see little or no spending discipline among the bureaucrats?
There's no "spend it or lose it" at my house. What about yours?
Myer can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.