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.

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Elaine Hays

Hi, my name is Elaine Hays and I am a political, financial and economic junkie. I love reading and listening to the news, interpreting what I am hearing and then discussing it with those around me. Sometimes they agree with me and sometimes they don’t, but I thoroughly enjoy the dialogue. I am a CFP (Certified Financial Planner) and my husband, Tracy, is a CPA. We own a private wealth management firm that helps clients identify and then achieve their financial goals. We have co-authored two books, When God We Trust and Avoiding the Top Ten Money Mistakes. We have been married for 27 years and have four fantastic children – Taylor, Rachel, Ryan and Caleb. (And now a wonderful son-in-law, Joshua!) As a conservative, Christian woman, my world-view has a biblical perspective. I rely on scriptural truths to define my ideas of life, family and the role of government and you will see that expressed in my writing. I’m passionate about learning and began my post-high school education with a BBA in Marketing from Texas Christian University. At the age of 40 I returned to school and earned a Master of Science in Finance/Economics from West Texas A&M. At the age of 50, I began working on and completed 51 doctoral hours in Economics from Texas Tech University. My husband is a bit nervous to see what happens when I turn 60. We elect politicians who set policies that govern our economy. We make choices to spend, save or share money with others. All of these decisions have consequences, positive and negative, and our goal is to avoid the negatives. By pursuing knowlege on personal finances, economic principles and the impact of government policy on our daily lives, we become equipped to make better decisions. And the more we educate ourselves, the more we have to pass on to your children and grandchildren – literally.

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