"But the point is, when you go through these things over and over, and you see how embedded the resistance is -- and it's not just big spending Democrats, it's Republicans when it comes down to parochial interests -- then you realize how insuperable the task is."
He then went down my list of targets and complained, name by name, how GOP lawmakers had fought him tooth and nail to preserve these programs.
That was then. This is now. And there's plenty of blame to go around. The government is grotesquely swollen with waste-filled programs and agencies that no longer serve a useful purpose and need to be ended.
And it's gotten much worse under President Obama's administration. He's interested only in enlarging the size of the government and spending more, as is obvious by a long list of new regulatory and social welfare programs he has created or wants to expand.
You could wallpaper every building in the nation's capital with the pages of countless federal reports on the amount of waste that has been dug up by investigators. But that's not a priority on Capitol Hill or in this administration.
Take, for example, a Government Accountability Office report that recently looked into the amount of duplication throughout the government. Among its 345 pages:
-- 20 federal agencies that run 56 programs dealing with financial literacy.
-- 80 economic development programs sprinkled across four agencies that cost taxpayers $6.5 billion.
-- The Transportation Department spends $58 billion on 100 programs employing 6,000 employees "that haven't evolved since 1956."
-- 15 separate federal agencies administer more than 30 food-related laws.
-- Five departments are overseeing nearly $6.5 billion dealing with bioterrorism.
"This report shows we could save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars without cutting services. And in many cases smart consolidations will improve service," says Tom Coburn, the waste-fighting Oklahoma Republican senator known as "Dr. No", who requested the study.
Dubious spending can be found in virtually every corner of the vast federal bureaucracy, often in agencies that are among the government's most sacred cows, immune from any budget cuts.
Obama's been pushing for more spending on science, including the $31 billion National Institutes of Health. But an investigation by noted health care analyst David Maris of Forbes Magazine found some shocking expenditures.
They included $386,000 to study massage therapy on rabbits; $453,000 to study breathing in meditation; and $1.1 million to study weight loss through medication in a long list of studies that Maris called "flaky."
In a perfect world, Congress would have an efficient, high tech, cross-referenced, legislative oversight system to apply a hard-nosed annual review of every program and expenditure in the government. But none exists. Its creaky, disorganized, snail's pace committee structure is basically the same one that existed in the 18th Century.
Most of the wasteful, expendable programs I criticized in Fat City are still there, spending money -- including the Export-Import Bank bankrolling the richest Fortune 500 companies; a small business agency, for all its billions, that's had a minuscule impact on new business creation; and Agriculture programs right out of the horse and buggy era.
One of these days a presidential candidate will run on a radical platform of overhauling this antiquated, wasteful bureaucracy we've constructed over 200 years.
Until then, we're paying through the nose for a lot more government than we need or can afford that is fast eroding the foundations of our country and its economy.