Economy & Budget

Cutting Government Down to Size

Sen. Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.) came charging into the U.S. Senate six years ago determined to gun down the most dangerous issue facing the country:
uncontrolled government spending and debt.

He put delaying holds on countless spending bills, angering many of his colleagues. He offered an untold number of budget-cutting amendments to block, reduce or eliminate spending. He has fought, condemned and stomped on just about every waste-ridden bill to come before the Senate so many times that Democrats call him “Dr. No,” a name he considers a badge of honor.

Now he finds himself on President Obama’s politically inspired, dubiously worthwhile commission to come up with ways to cut trillions of dollars from a mountain of debt. Coburn is outnumbered on the commission by a hand-picked majority of big spenders, but is coming well-armed with a detailed list of outdated, needless, unaffordable, fraud-ridden programs, agencies and expenditures that he has shoved under their noses, suggesting that these cuts would be a good place to start before even thinking about raising taxes.

$350 billion

“I hope this commission concludes it is time for politicians in Washington to make sacrifices. The American people are already sacrificing enough. Families should not be forced to pay higher taxes in order to help politicians avoid tough choices when the federal government is wasting at least $350 billion a year,” Coburn told HUMAN EVENTS.

That’s the preliminary amount of wasteful, ineffective, duplicative spending Coburn has uncovered in his oversight work on the budget.

Other budget experts familiar with his proposals say the full figure is much higher than that, though Coburn has given the panel a comprehensive agenda of cuts and eliminations that, when combined with long-term reforms in entitlement programs, would push savings far beyond the $350 billion figure.

In 1984, the Grace Commission, under orders from President Reagan to expose waste, fraud and abuse throughout the U.S. government, concluded that at least one in every three dollars in federal spending was wasted. Today that would amount to about $1.2 trillion.

Obama’s 18-member commission was just getting started last month when Coburn gave each member a thick, black binder filled with hundreds of billions of dollars worth of candidates for the axe. His office refuses to give out copies to the press, not wanting to be seen as bashing the panel in the media, but commission members say Coburn is pushing his proposals vigorously and will be a major force to be reckoned with in the commission’s deliberations.

Coburn’s list of waste in Washington is the result of six years of combating over-spending in committees and on the Senate floor. Those who are familiar with his anti-spending battles say the programs he has targeted for the commission are ones he has been railing against for a long time. Here are some choice examples from Coburn list of targets that are among the hundreds of billions of dollars in savings he wants the deficit panel to recommend to Congress.

Congressional Spending Earmarks
• $1.9 million for Connecticut’s Pleasure Beach water taxi service.
• $380,000 for a recreation and fairgrounds area in Kotzebue, Alaska.
• $3.8 million for the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy in Detroit.
• $1.8 million for swine odor and manure management research in Ames, Iowa.
• $1.2 million for total rat eradication on the Palmyra Atoll in Hawaii.
• $750,000 for continued celebration and commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the voyages of Henry Hudson and Samuel de Champlain.

National Science Foundation Studies
• $188,206 to ask the question, “Why do political candidates make vague statements, and what are their consequences?
• $11,825 to study “Prime Time Politics: Television News and the Visual Framing of War.”
• $143,254 to evaluate whip counts by party leaders in Congress to determine the impact of party leaders in the legislative process and how successful party leaders are at mobilizing support for party programs.
• $50,000 to hold a conference on the effect of youtube.com on the 2008 election.
• $678,000 to study Internet social networking sites including Twitter and Facebook in an effort to “measure public happiness.”

Department of Education
Congress dished out $64.2 billion to the Department of Education for fiscal 2010, a nearly 10% increase over the previous year. But Coburn found much of this money is wasted by a bureaucracy that is notorious for its inefficiency and overlapping programs—230 duplicative programs at last count and more than $10 billion in waste, fraud and mismanagement.

Department of Energy
Congress gave this department, which produces no energy but adds to its costs, $26.4 billion in fiscal 2010, after more than doubling its budget by another $34 billion under the economic stimulus bill the year before.

Rife with waste, fraud and mismanagement with at least 17 programs duplicating one another, the Energy Department handed out $5 billion last year for state-run weatherization projects, a massive increase over the $227 million of the previous year—a spending binge that contractors described as “winning the lottery.”
Worse, it was later found that a “vast majority” of states were not spending the money they were given.

But even all of the money spent by these and the other agencies and Cabinet departments pales when compared to the mountain of unfunded liabilities for entitlement programs that will have to be reined in if we are ever to curb the government’s mounting national debt, which is currently $12.1 trillion, or $39,000 for each man, woman and child in the country.

Coburn told the Senate that Social Security is expected to begin running a deficit in six years and in just seven years, Medicare—riddled with relentless fraud—will not have enough funding to pay all of its expected benefits to a wave of baby-boomers who soon be retiring, Coburn told the Senate.

But instead of scaling back on spending, Congress has increased it significantly, approving appropriations bills that are fatter and more waste-ridden than ever before—driving the government deeper into debt.

“This year’s deficit is expected to reach $1.5 trillion, which would mark the third straight record annual deficit. The administration projects the deficit will remain above $1 trillion in 2011 and will not drop below $739 billion over the next decade,” Coburn said in a recent speech.

“The federal government is now borrowing 43 cents for every dollar it spends. Some $4.8 trillion of the $9 trillion in debt that the government will likely accrue over the next ten years will be interest,” he says.

President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility & Reform is not expected to finish its work and produce a report to Congress until December. But Coburn says Congress should not wait until then to tackle uncontrolled spending and deficit-reduction.

“Congress does not need to wait on this commission to begin making the hard choices needed to restrain spending and reduce the burden of debt on the next generation,” he told HUMAN EVENTS.

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