According to the Government Accountability Office, the federal government operates 50 different programs for the homeless. There are 23 programs in housing, 26 for food and nutrition, 130 for at-risk youth. They also operate an astounding 342 programs for economic development, which government is notoriously bad at anyway.
Yet when faced with the need to cut spending — make that cut the rate of spending growth — for the sequestration, the Obama administration didn’t target a single duplicative program. Instead, they released a couple thousand illegal immigrants from ICE custody, some of them dangerous, many in Arizona and then implausibly claimed the decision was made by a lowly bureaucrat.
Rather than releasing criminals, the administration could have reduced federal employee conventioneering. It’s not clear why our public servants need to travel and party at posh locations when so many other means of communication, like teleconferencing, are available. More than 894 conferences were held last year, costing $340 million taxpayer dollars, yet Education and Transportation department heads recently testified that no possible savings were available in travel budgets.
Examples of government waste abound. Take food. Why do we continue to subsidize sugar and other agricultural products when we know the money goes mostly to food conglomerates and major property owners? Why do we have an agreement with the Mexican government to market food stamps to illegal immigrants, when the program has swollen from 28 to 47 million participants under President Obama’s watch and now costs $80 billion annually? And with food stamps so widely available, is it really necessary for 64 percent of all schoolchildren to also be on federal food subsidies?
How about savings in some bigger chunks? The Department of Energy was created by President Carter in response to the oil crisis of the 1970s. Today it has 16,000 employees and spends $30 billion annually. It’s highly likely that free markets could provide us with ample access to energy without DOE’s “help” and their subsidies for every known source of energy.
We could easily do without the Department of Education too, another gift to posterity (and the teachers’ unions) from Carter. We could bank another $70 billion. I’ve never met a serious education policy expert who didn’t believe the feds were totally inept at promoting academic achievement.
Entitlement reform is considered the most politically dicey place to go for spending cuts, even though the math dictates there is ultimately no choice in the matter. But even here, there are some relatively painless options. With all the baby boomers pouring into Social Security, why wouldn’t we gradually raise the eligibility age to at least 67? After all, Americans live almost two decades longer than they did when Social Security was created and working is less physically demanding than before. In spite of AARP’s reflexive opposition, it just makes sense.
Proposals to block-grant Medicaid to the states hold the promise of savings without undue sacrifice. So does the suggestion to convert Medicare to a premium support model, which would empower patients and their doctors to find cost-effective ways of staying healthy. The biggest savings of all would come from eliminating Obamacare, which may not be that hard to do once it rolls out in the next couple of years.
Obama has pointedly ignored $67 billion in outright waste identified by a commission he authorized. With all this low-hanging fruit, why would he claim that the minimal sequester “cuts” would be catastrophic and then work to make them as harmful as possible? Two answers. One is that what looks like waste to normal people is some congressman’s pet project, someone else’s job and a free benefit or critical issue to yet others. It’s not that easy.
But more importantly, the leftists who currently dominate the federal government are philosophically opposed to spending cuts. Obama clearly intends to use his time in office to grow government and expand the welfare state as much as possible, even if it means accumulating unthinkable levels of debt.
If our politicians were working together to find places to cut, it would be simple. But they’re not. When they claim they are, they’re just messing with you.
This is true ideological warfare. The stakes are enormous.
• East Valley resident Tom Patterson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a retired physician and former state senator.