The BIG Picture: Hedging with our funds

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John O'Connor, Editorial Director
John O'Connor, Editorial Director

Like more than 100 million of my closest friends, I just finished one of my least favorite rites of spring: filing income tax returns.

Spending weeks collecting and organizing required financial records is hardly my idea of a good time. And it's more than slightly frustrating to see how much so-called income first goes to Washington and my state capital. But like most Americans, I take filing taxes seriously for two reasons. First, the law requires it. But more importantly, it's the right thing to do.

Roads, schools, safe bridges and other accoutrements of a modern society do not finance themselves. We have a moral and legal obligation to support these and other benefits if we expect to enjoy them. But it's easy for even the most enthusiastic taxpayer to feel as if he's on a fool's errand. In taxes as in so many other things, there's that nagging doubt about how fairly the burden is really being shared.

Regardless, most of us need to pay the tax man. And you'd think that if we the peons can handle such basics of fiscal responsibility, our elected leaders would be up to the task, right? Think again.

Actually, Congress blew past its mid-April deadline for finishing next year's budget without so much as a draft in either chamber.

In fairness, congressional Democrats are in a bit of a bind. If they don't put a budget in place, Republicans will bludgeon them for failing to accomplish one of the few things that Congress is actually required to do. If the Democrats do prepare a budget, they'll be blasted even more harshly for the budget's priorities and prejudices.
So as it has done in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007, Congress will probably take a pass.

As a result, outlays for things like Medicare and Medicaid services will probably be put on auto pilot until a spending plan is finally figured out.

The reality is that running the country without a budget is becoming less shocking as it becomes more common. Still, such flat-out irresponsibility has a certain disturbing and galling tone to it. When we ignore our financial obligations, the Internal Revenue Service certainly notices. But when Congress does the same, it's no big deal?

For people trying to keep the finances of their family or business in order, the contradiction here can cause severe chafing.

But it does help explain two mysteries: The first is why so few people actually bother to vote. The second is why so many people who do are afflicted with buyer's remorse.