November 9, 2009 | Commentary on Federal Spending, Government Waste

Congressional Spenders Ignore Deepening Government Waste

To get a handle on how out of control federal spending has become, consider this: It surged to $30,000 per household in 2009. That's up from $21,000 (adjusted for inflation) in the 1980s and '90s. Yet rather than cut back, Congress plans to spend even more.

Lawmakers want an additional 11 percent domestic discretionary spending hike in 2010, as well as an expensive new health care entitlement. In the absence of spending restraint, closing these budget deficits would require permanent tax increases exceeding $8,000 per household.

This is absurd. Instead, Congress should reform Social Security and Medicare, eliminate outdated programs, and take back unspent stimulus and financial bailout funds. They could at least build budgetary credibility with the American people by cutting indefensible government waste, such as the following examples:

  • Washington spends $92 billion annually on corporate welfare (not even counting recent corporate bailouts) versus $71 billion on homeland security.
  • The federal government made at least $72 billion in payment errors in 2008.
  • Washington spends $25 billion annually maintaining unused or vacant federal properties.
  • Government auditors spent the last five years examining all federal programs and found no evidence that 22 percent of them -- costing taxpayers a total of $123 billion annually -- help the populations they serve.
  • The Congressional Budget Office published a "Budget Options" series identifying more than $100 billion in potential spending cuts. It went largely ignored.
  • Government auditors examining wasteful duplication counted 342 economic development programs; 130 programs serving the disabled; 130 programs serving at-risk youth; and 90 early childhood development programs.
  • Washington will spend $2.6 million training Chinese prostitutes to drink more responsibly on the job.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission spent $3.9 million rearranging desks and offices at its Washington headquarters.
  • The Pentagon spent $998,798 shipping two 19-cent washers from South Carolina to Texas, and $293,451 sending an 89-cent washer from South Carolina to Florida.
  • A government audit classified nearly half of all purchases on government credit cards as improper, fraudulent or embezzled. Examples of taxpayer-funded purchases include gambling, mortgage payments, liquor, lingerie, iPods, Xboxes, jewelry, Internet dating services and Hawaiian vacations.
  • Health care fraud is estimated to cost taxpayers more than $60 billion annually.
  • A government audit found that 95 Pentagon weapons systems suffered from a combined $295 billion in cost overruns.
  • The refusal of many federal employees to fly coach costs taxpayers $146 million annually in flight upgrades.
  • Washington spent $126 million in 2009 to enhance the Kennedy family legacy in Massachusetts. Additionally, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., diverted $20 million from the 2010 defense budget to subsidize a new Edward M. Kennedy Institute.
  • The federal government owns more than 50,000 vacant homes.
  • The Federal Communications Commission spent $350,000 to sponsor NASCAR driver David Gilliland.
  • Taxpayers are funding paintings of high-ranking government officials at a cost of up to $50,000 apiece.
  • Members of Congress have spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars supplying their offices with popcorn machines, plasma televisions, DVD equipment, ionic air fresheners, camcorders and signature machines -- plus $24,730 leasing a Lexus, $1,434 on a digital camera, and $84,000 on personalized calendars.
  • Washington has spent $3 billion re-sanding beaches -- even as this new sand washes back into the ocean.
  • Last year's 10,160 earmarks included $200,000 for a tattoo-removal program in Mission Hills, Calif.; $190,000 for the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyo.; and $75,000 for the Totally Teen Zone in Albany, Ga.
  • The debt-ridden Postal Service spent $13,500 on one dinner at a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, including "over 200 appetizers and over $3,000 of alcohol, including more than 40 bottles of wine costing more than $50 each and brand-name liquor such as Courvoisier, Belvedere and Johnny Walker Gold." The 81 guests consumed an average of $167 worth of food and drink apiece.

President Obama and Congress have no right to demand higher taxes from the American people until they first clean up this wasteful spending. And taxpayers should ask themselves whether it is wise to entrust wasteful Washington with more power over their health care.

Everyone else is tightening their belts. Now it's Congress' turn.

Brian M. Riedl is Grover M. Hermann Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Brian M. Riedl Grover Hermann Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs
Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

Distributed Nationally on the McClatchy-Tribune Wire