A few weeks ago the Republican House leadership claimed the federal budget had been cut to the bone and there was no room for more spending reductions. Then, Majority Leader Tom DeLay was forced to step aside, producing a leadership shake-up. Suddenly the bones aren't as bare as previously thought.
House Republicans say they want to cut $50 billion from the 2006 budget by focusing on programs that offer health care for the poor, food stamps and farm subsidies. They are also looking at possible across-the-board spending reductions in other programs.
Here's a suggestion: Don't start with the poor. Start with the rich and with outmoded programs and wasteful spending.
In its latest Prime Cuts report, Citizens Against Government Waste has provided some splendid examples of how government squanders our money on ridiculous things. Among them is the Advanced Technology Program, created in 1988 to offer research and development technology grants to small businesses. Today, ATP is little more than a spending boondoggle that serves no other purpose than to subsidize corporations, including many Fortune 500 companies. ATP has cost taxpayers $2.3 billion over the last 17 years.
The Defense Travel System, an in-house travel system used by the Defense Department and military personnel, was supposed to save money, but is a disaster. In addition to its inability to guarantee the lowest fare, DTS is so underutilized that in seven years a total of just 370,000 out of 5.6 million annual travelers have used DTS, according to Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, who tried but failed to scrap DTS. It costs $1,500 per transaction to support DTS, not even including the cost of the plane ticket, Coburn says. "What we actually have is a system way more expensive than any system that has been developed in the private sector." If DTS were scrapped, CAGW estimates per-year savings at $49 million.
The Freedom Cooperative Automotive Research Partnership is a joint effort between the Department of Energy and the private sector to pay for research into clean fuel cell technology. Such efforts at reducing the consumption of gasoline by finding alternative fuel sources have been tried before. They've produced millions of misspent dollars. The market is already creating greater demand for hybrid cars as gas prices rise. Automakers are more likely now to meet consumer demand for fuel efficient cars. If FreedomCAR were eliminated, taxpayers would save $481 million per year, CAGW says.
Farm subsidies are another area where money could be saved. They're expected to hit $17.8 billion this year. Two-thirds of the nation's 2.1 million farms receive no subsidies, either because the crops they grow are not eligible, or because they are too small and marginal to qualify. According to the Environmental Working Group, the vast majority of farmers who get government checks receive only small amounts. Eighty percent of the recipients between 1995 and 2003 received, on average, $6,918 for the entire period. Most of the farm subsidy money (72 percent) goes to 10 percent of the recipients, the richest farmers, partnerships, corporations, estates and other entities.
Various federal dairy programs are woefully out of date, according to CAGW. Dairy subsidies started in the 1930s during the Great Depression when, according to a July 2004 Department of Agriculture report, "most milk production (60 percent) was destined for fluid consumption, markets were predominately local and many dairy enterprises were part of diversified farming operations." Today, most milk is used for manufactured dairy products, markets for them are national and dairy farms have become highly specialized operations. Eliminating the dairy subsidy would save an estimated $1.15 billion per year.
And so it goes with sugar subsidies ($160 million per year in savings), as well as the Small Business Administration's Microloan program, the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. NASA administrator Michael Griffin recently admitted that the shuttle and space station were mistakes. Those mistakes cost $3.39 billion annually, CAGW says.
One more example of waste: The Boston Herald reported that many of the New Orleans evacuees from Hurricane Katrina are using their $2,000 government cash cards to buy liquor, watch strippers and pay for lap dances on Cape Cod where 235 of them were brought initially and are living at taxpayer expense at Camp Edwards on Otis Air Force Base.
Let's hope Congress works on at least depriving these characters of their federally subsidized booze and lap dances and that we don't hear any more of this "cut to the bone" nonsense.
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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