Fiscal Cliff Deadline: Congress Knows What Needs to Cut, But Here's Why It's Not Happening

With all the deficit spending in Washington these days, you would think there wasn’t a single program that could use a little trimming. You certainly wouldn’t borrow $16 trillion for unnecessary or wasteful programs, right? There are numerous programs that have been identified by different agencies and watchdog groups that would be a great place to begin balancing the budget — even before attempting to deal with the real driver of the debt, entitlements. It’s not always necessary to totally eliminate a program or a department to find billions in savings. Just cutting back on some of the duplication and excess would be a great place to start.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress and is often referred to as the "congressional watchdog" It is tasked with reviewing government spending and reporting back to Congress. Their 2012 report presented 51 programs in 12 different departments that could be more cost efficient in delivering their services.

One of the areas identified was the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The GAO recommended updating how disaster funding decisions are made and developing a better measure of determining a state’s ability to respond without federal assistance.  Sounds like this might have been a great idea — given the fact that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie just asked the federal government to pay 100% of the costs associated with the damage from Superstorm Sandy (estimated to be as high as $40 billion). States should be prepared to assume responsibility for at least a portion of disaster damages, but it appears that the FEMA administrator has the authority to raise the reimbursement to 100%.  

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), a conservative think-tank, publishes an annual Pig Book. To be identified in their report as “pork spending,” funding for a project must be requested by only one chamber of Congress, not specifically authorized, not competitively awarded nor requested by the president, greatly exceed the president’s budget request, and not be the subject of congressional hearings or serve only a local/special interest. The latest installment of CAGW’s pork-barrel spending includes $255 million to upgrade the M1 Abrams tank, even though it is opposed by the Pentagon (and since FY 1994, there have been 31 earmarks costing taxpayers $519.2 million for the M1 Abrams tank program); $5,870,000 for the East-West Center; a pet project of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii); $3,388,000 for national fish hatchery system operations, and $3,000,000 for aquatic plant control.  

Many of the “pork” projects identified by CAGW are creating waste in the millions. But for billion dollar waste, we need look no further than the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). In 2009, the EPA budget was $7.1 billion, but in 2010 it increased to $10.5 billion — a staggering 48% increase. The resident’s 2012 budget includes $9 billion for this department. Returning the EPA to the 2009 level would save nearly $2 billion.  

We’re really not short on ideas for cutting government spending. The Heritage Foundation presented $150 billion in potential non-defense options for annual savings. The House passed the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act of 2012 providing a detailed list of program cuts to offset the anticipated sequestration. This was after they passed the fiscal 2012 budget resolution, which cut $5.8 trillion from current spending levels over the next 10 years. The Senate hasn’t passed a budget in three years and seven months, so we don’t know what cuts they might support. (Come on Senator Reid, let the Senate participate in the budgeting process.)

U.S. debt has increased $48,000 per second since Obama took office. We have the information on numerous agencies that could be eliminated or reduced with a cost saving of tens of billions of dollars, and yet nothing is done to act upon it. It reminds me of the Seinfeld “reservation” episode where Jerry, exasperated with the car rental company, states that anybody can take a reservation; it’s holding the reservation that matters. The same can be said of the GAO and other organizations identifying numerous wasteful programs and opportunities for cost savings. Anybody can write a report, it’s implementing the changes recommended that matters. Instead of the government asking me to pay more of my “fair share,” I’d appreciate them taking a little closer look at how they’ve already wasted some of what I sent last year. And then actually doing something about it.