Contrary to popular opinion, deceased Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen never said: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”
According to the Dirksen Center, more than 25 percent of the inquiries they receive ask about the origin of the often-cited quotation. The Center launched what it called “an exhaustive search” of audio tapes, newspaper clippings in the Dirksen Papers library, 12,500 pages of Dirksen’s own speech notes, transcripts of his speeches, media appearances, press conferences and Senate floor statements that the Congressional Record documented.
Not only couldn’t the Center verify that Dirksen made the famous remark, it has no clue who did. But Dirksen came close. At a joint Senate-House Republican leadership press conference on March 8, 1962, Dirksen said, “The favorite sum of money is $1 billion – a billion a year for a fatter federal payroll, a billion here, a billion there.” Then, in 1965, Dirksen said, “If some people get any cheer out of a $328 billion debt ceiling, I do not find much to cheer about concerning it.”
What led me to Dirksen’s insights into excessive spending and the national debt was the semiannual Office of the Inspector General’s report which, after analysis of fiscal years 2009-2011, found that the federal government through the Health and Human Services’ Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services spent $120.6 million on illegal aliens under Medicare Parts B and D. Medicare specifically excludes aliens from collecting medical benefits.
If Dirksen was aghast at wasteful spending 50 years ago, he’d be speechless today. Even though the federal debt is $17.5 trillion, entitlement spending on illegal immigrants continues with neither the blink of an eye nor an end in sight.
A footnote: Dirksen criticized the debt ceiling four months before President Johnson signed the 1965 Immigration Act – what I loosely refer to as the pre-immigration era. At the signing ceremony, Johnson said: “This bill that we will sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives, or really add importantly to either our wealth or our power.”
Johnson was wrong, of course, and the IG report highlights the most recent in a string of decades-long immigration abuses that, despite what Johnson promised, altered millions of American lives.