It’s a common refrain; I hear it all the time. Well-meaning people think government spending can be brought under control if only there could be an effort to “cut the waste.” If only that were so.

The bad news is that $300 hammers and bureaucrats’ travel don’t amount to a rounding error. The good news is that it is within our power to contain government spending.

Maybe we should better define “waste”? Typically when people think of government waste, they mean bureaucrats purchasing over-priced tools, taking unnecessary trips, or funding frivolous studies of trivial topics.

Perhaps a better definition would involve any spending outside the specific boundaries of the federal and state constitutions, or any spending that can be done by anyone besides government?

As my friend JoAnn Fleming of Grassroots America likes to say, government needs to be fitted back inside a constitution-sized box.

This starts with the decisions we make as citizens, and the expectations we have for government. This must start with each of us saying, “No” – even when the spending might include a personal benefit which we think we’re owed.

I’m reminded of a story from 2010 involving the City of Grandview, south of Fort Worth. The city council turned down a half-million-dollar federal earmark secured by former Democrat Rep. Chet Edwards. They said such earmarks represented “irresponsible pork-barrel politics.”

No doubt Grandview could have gone ahead and built the frivolous thing for which the earmark was designated. Except it wasn’t exactly frivolous: it was funds for a new water tower.

One city councilman, Bill Pannell, said at the time that “it was a dadgum tough decision. But you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror in the morning.” He and his fellow council members said the federal expense was both unethical and unconstitutional.

Whether the spending is needed or not, too many cities, before and since, rush to cash any check a congressman hands them.

This is our fault as citizens.

Over the years, politicians have been trained in fiscal ethics by the voters. We have time and again rewarded them for expanding the size of government. We have told them they can buy us off with our own money.

Controlling government spending starts by controlling ourselves. Fixing the politicians starts with fixing ourselves.

This is the curse and the blessing of being a self-governing people.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and an Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, and think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, a son-in-law, and a dog. Michael is the author of three books, including "Reflections on Life and Liberty."