Consider the $15 billion in the fiscal 2004 budget for farm subsidies. This program was created to protect farmers from low incomes caused by low prices. Farmers who plant the most crops receive the largest subsidies. As the Heritage Foundation's Brian Riedl notes, farm subsidies lower prices further. Low prices are caused by an oversupply of crops, and farmers seeking large subsidies must plant more crops, which leads to lower prices and more subsidies. Three-quarters of all farm subsidies go to the wealthiest 10 percent of farmers. Ninety percent of all farm subsidies go for just five crops - wheat, corn, cotton, soybeans and rice. Farmers of other crops manage to stay in business without subsidies. This is a failed government program, and members of Congress who support it would be charged with one mistake.
Then there's the $6.7 billion Head Start program, created in 1966 to provide grants to school districts to increase "readiness" of disadvantaged children through comprehensive medical, social, educational and mental health assistance. But, according to exhaustive studies, the program does not show definitive evidence of long-term benefit for children. Another mistake.
Remember President Clinton's promise to put 100,000 police officers on the street? That cost $1.2 billion in the fiscal 2004 budget, but the program never provided that many officers, failed to reduce crime and had no coherent strategy beyond adding more bureaucracy. Furthermore, communities experiencing the most crime don't always get the most money since funding is linked to population, not incidence of crime. Big mistake.
Federal anti-drug advertising is costing about $180 million annually, but there is no evidence that the campaign is reducing drug use. With a federal program, failure means never having to say you were wrong.
The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is costing $94 million this fiscal year. It was created in 1965 to fund economic growth in 13 Appalachian states through transportation access and community, business and human development. But there is no convincing evidence that ARC has provided long-term growth in jobs or capital investment in its 39 years of existence. Among its many faults, the program is duplicative. There are 342 economic development programs across government.
Imagine the money we'd save if failed programs like these were buried for good. Maybe the only way to make sure we get the government we're paying for is to take Mayor Williams up on his offer and have voters require it of every member of Congress.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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