On Sunday the New York Times profiled Diane McLeod, a 47-year-old single mother working two jobs, who by her own admission acknowledges she spent too much money shopping to make herself feel better without reflecting on how it would impact her future. Commenting on reader reaction to the article, former Weekly Standard senior editor David Brooks wrote: “Individuals don’t build their lives from scratch. They absorb the patterns and norms of the world around them. … [W]hat happened to McLeod, and the nation’s financial system, is part of a larger social story. America once had a culture of thrift. But over the past decades, that unspoken code has been silently eroded.”

Brooks goes on to write that “social institutions are trying to re-right the norms” and that “the government is sending some messages.” But too often government sends the wrong messages. This week in the U.S. Senate, one senator is desperately fighting to send the right signal to the American people about fiscal responsibility and the necessity of setting priorities.

Over the past year, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has placed “holds” on dozens of bills that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had slated for expedited passage through the Senate. With the legislative session drawing to a close, Reid has now bundled all of these bills into one massive package that he plans to cram through the Senate with one single vote. Learning of Reid’s plan, Coburn spoke from the Senate floor:

That bill is coming about because myself and several other senators have refused to allow those bills to go without debate on this floor and without the ability to amend them. Now, some of them are very good things we ought to be about. But we should not be about it until we are going to inculcate and act as senators the same way every other family in this country has to act; that is, by making a decision based on priorities. …

By historical standards, this is supposed to be the greatest deliberative body in the world. In the 110th Congress, 890 bills have passed — 890. Fifty of them have had debate. Only 50 have had debate. And for most of those, the debate has been extremely limited and shortened through the power of the majority leader. …

So is it any wonder that only 9% of the American public has any significant confidence in the Congress to put forward their interests? We are going to be doing this at a time when the No. 1 issue in this country is energy security and energy prices, but we are going to put a bill on the Senate floor that grows the government, that creates 70 new programs, and spends somewhere between $25 billion and $50 billion.

I would tell my colleagues that most people sitting down to their dinner table think we have our priorities messed up, and they are right. We do.

If we ever hope to return to being a nation of thrift and responsibility, our elected leaders must stop growing the government by setting priorities and making hard choices before spending. For the Senate, the situation is so bad that even allowing debate on the subject would be progress. Earlier in his speech, Coburn noted that according to the Government Accountability Office, federal spending is already around 20% of GDP. If we do nothing to change current policy, it is set to rise to 35% of GDP by 2038. That number is a huge threat to the liberty of America. It is high time the Senate started an honest debate about it.

Quick Hits: