There they go again: Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., calls it
"immoral." Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle says it would be a
The war in Iraq? Try the budget recently passed by the House
Budget Committee, which seeks to increase government spending by
only 4 percent next year. This is slightly slower growth than the
budgets proposed by President Bush and the Senate, and
substantially less than what several liberal critics such as Rangel
and Daschle would like to spend.
So how come the House version is so low? It wants to eliminate $21
billion in waste, fraud and abuse.
With the nation at war and the budget deficit approaching $400
billion, one would think that cutting government waste is an idea
everyone could agree on. Yet congressional big spenders have united
to resist the plans. Instead of reducing waste, some have proposed
balancing the budget by repealing most of the 2001 tax cuts.
Their opposition is based on partisan politics, but it's a shrewd
strategy: Millions of Americans depend on programs like Medicare,
Medicaid, veteran's benefits and student loans. Charging that
conservatives on the budget committee are cutting benefits-instead
of government waste-represents an easy way to scare seniors,
veterans and students, and consequently pick up their votes in the
That strategy is also effective. Critics used the same tactics
against President Reagan in the 1980s, and against congressional
reformers in the mid-1990s when they attempted to reduce government
waste. The result: Government waste has ballooned, leading to
higher budget deficits, and eventually, higher taxes.
The long-term savings from reducing waste would be substantial.
Trimming $21 billion of fat out of next year's budget would save
approximately $264 billion-about $2,500 per household-over the next
Members of Congress wouldn't have to look hard to find $21 billion
in waste, fraud and abuse to cut. They could read recent Heritage
Foundation studies, which have found:
In what has been become an
annual problem, government officials couldn't even account for more
than $17 billion spent in 2001. They don't know who spent it. Nor
do they know what was bought. Officials bury this embarrassing
waste deep in government auditing documents, calling it
Reducing payment errors.
Any Medicare savings this
year would likely come from the $12 billion in annual payment
errors. Payment errors also cost the food-stamp program more than
$1 billion per year. Perhaps the worst offender is the Department
of Housing and Urban Development, with payment errors totaling 10
percent of its total budget.
Frivolous defense spending.
Remember those $400
hammers? The military is still squandering its scarce resources. A
recent audit revealed military personnel used their
government-funded travel cards to charge more than $293,000 for
entertainment events, gambling, cruises, strip clubs and
Here's some classic pork-barrel
spending that could be cut: $725,000 for the Please Touch Museum in
Philadelphia; $90,000 for the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth,
Texas; $273,000 to help Blue Springs, Mo., combat teenage "goth
culture"; and $1 million for Birmingham, Ala., to build a statue of
the Roman god Vulcan. Cutting off the funds for thousands of
projects like these would save $20 billion per year.
Washington also could consolidate
its many duplicative functions. For example, there are 342 separate
economic development programs, 130 programs serving the disabled,
130 programs serving at-risk youth, and 72 safe-water programs.
This overlap not only wastes billions in administrative overhead,
it confuses those needing federal assistance who must navigate
through the morass of programs.
End corporate welfare.
The $90 billion spent on
corporate welfare also should be eliminated. There's no
justification for taxing waitresses and welders to subsidize
Fortune 500 CEOs. Furthermore, most corporate welfare programs,
such as the Advanced Technology Program, provide little or no
economic value to justify their enormous costs.
Eliminating the wasteful spending listed above would save as much
as $200 billion per year-nearly 10 times as much as the House
Republican leaders are seeking to reduce. Liberal critics may call
it "immoral" or say it will cause "painful sacrifice." But they're
not saying what the plan really is: Common sense.
- Brian Riedl is the
Grover M. Hermann Fellow in federal budgetary affairs at The
Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire