How To Suture Dems' Fiscal Hemorrhaging

Donald Lambro

10/29/2010 12:01:00 AM - Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- The Democrats keep asking the Republicans to say where they would cut federal spending to shrink a massive $1.3 trillion deficit if they win control of Congress on Nov. 2.

That of course begs this question: What are the Democrats doing to bring down a line of trillion-dollar budget deficits as far as the eye can see? After all, they're the ones who rang up all of this spending.

The answer is nothing. The ruling party, which has been on a wild spending spree for the past two years, left a pile of appropriations bills behind, failed to approve a budget, and put the government on a continuing resolution that is the fiscal equivalent of putting the feds on automatic pilot.

The only reason Democrats are pestering Republicans to show their budget-cutting hand now is to give them some political targets to shoot down in a midterm election they know they're going to lose.

The GOP is wise not to play that game. House Republicans have thrown down their budget-cutting gauntlet, declaring their intention to sharply roll back non-defense discretionary spending to 2008 levels if they are put in charge.

Budget analysts say that means cutting more than $100 billion from federal departments, agencies and programs that will require "a level of reductions that history suggests would be extremely hard to execute," according to a front page story in The New York Times.

The Times offers a largely one-sided, liberal view of the spending catastrophe that confronts Congress, suggesting there are relatively few places to cut without doing irrevocable harm to our country.

The truth is that in a $3.5-trillion-a-year budget, there are plenty of places that not only cry out for cuts, but also for the wholesale elimination of entire programs, which would shrink the monstrous deficits that now threaten America's future economic vitality and strength.

In fact, getting to $100 billion is the easy part. When Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, they cut spending by $53 billion and put the budget on a trajectory that led to a surplus. Here are a few ideas of where we could start.

-- End President Obama's failed economic stimulus program and recover the unspent funds. ProPublica, an investigative website that has been tracking spending under Obama's $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, says there is $152 billion still in the pipeline and $48 billion "left to spend." Rescind the money and apply it to the deficit.

-- Repeal the $1 trillion Obamacare plan. Passing a scaled-down, less-expensive health-care reform aimed at reducing the rapid rise in health-care costs will save hundreds of billions of dollars and lift a huge burden from businesses, workers and a struggling economy.

-- It is estimated that the government loses hundreds of billions of dollars each year through waste, fraud and abuse. This lost money has been documented in countless investigative reports from the Government Accountability Office, inspector generals and the Congressional Budget Office's Budget Options book. But these reports are all too often unread by congressional oversight committees, ending up on a dusty shelf instead of being acted upon and saving taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.

For example, the Treasury Department's 2003 Financial Report of the Government uncovered "unreconciled transactions" that totaled $24.5 billion. These are unaccounted expenditures. "The government knows $25 billion was spent by someone, somewhere, on something, but auditors do not know who spent it, where it was spent, or on what it was spent," the Heritage Foundation said in a report on how to combat waste in government.

-- Over many decades Congress has created a confusing mass of wasteful duplication, with agencies frequently working at cross-purposes. Among them: 342 economic development programs; 50 homeless assistance programs; 40 employment and job-training programs; 17 trade agencies; and 23 agencies providing aid to the former Soviet republics.

-- Heritage has identified $300 billion in immediate spending cuts that Congress could enact - "amounting to nearly 10 percent of the budget," the conservative foundation's chief budget analyst, Brian Riedl, told me.

"Large reforms could include devolving the highway program and gas tax back to the states. Smaller reforms include eliminating failed (grant giveaway) programs such as the Economic Development Administration," Riedl said.

"Billions can also be saved from government reform, such as freezing federal pay, cutting the bloated federal travel budget, rescinding unspent appropriations, reducing payment errors, and selling unused federal properties," he said.

-- In 1980, I wrote "Fat City: How Washington Wastes Your Taxes," which detailed more than $100 billion in wasteful, outmoded, needless and ineffective government agencies and programs. Most of them are still in full operation, though with bigger budgets, unexamined by Congress but automatically reauthorized and reappropriated each and every year.

They have names like the Community Development Block Grant Program, whose funds often go to upper income communities, or the Urban Development Action Grants, which too often have gone to help fund projects by big real estate developers.

Anyone who thinks we can't cut the budget deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars has no idea how much a $3.5 trillion government is wasting each and every day. The time has come to put a stop to it.