Mona Charen

Responding to the Obama administration's operatic warnings of catastrophe for Meals on Wheels for the elderly, Head Start, meat inspections, air traffic controllers, and police, fire, and 911 operators if the government reduces the rate of increase of federal spending by 2 percent, radio host Chris Plante offered the following suggestion: "Since this two percent obviously covers all essential government spending, let's cut the other 98 percent!"

Even if these "draconian cuts" are implemented, the federal government will spend more this year than it did last year.

Another way to think about it is this: In 2007, the government was 40 percent smaller than it is today. Were poor people sleeping under bridges? Were the elderly starving? Were planes grounded? Was food unsafe to eat?

Here's another question: Are Americans really this gullible? The president's doom saying is so absurd that a mature country would hoot him off the stage. As it is, the housebroken media credulously report his obviously partisan scare mongering as fact.

As the sequester has loomed, the president and even many Republicans have argued that these "across the board" spending cuts (they're actually just reductions in the rate of increase) are "stupid" and "destructive" and so forth. This raises (it doesn't beg) the question: if cutting spending across the board is so stupid, what does that say about the priorities of the congress and president who passed these spending bills in the first place? If our spending priorities are so out of whack that cutting everything equally is unthinkable, why hasn't the government adjusted those programs before now?

Isn't it the job of elected representatives to pass laws, oversee their execution and adjust accordingly? There is a rumor that the U.S. has two Houses of Congress, but the Senate hasn't been heard from in years. While the Republican House has passed budgets that would slowly reduce the levels of federal debt over 10 years, the Democratically-controlled Senate has played see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, but alas not speak-no-evil. In any case, that body has not passed a budget in nearly four years.

Democrats like to pretend that every last penny of government spending is wise, benevolent and essential. My guess is that perhaps 15 percent of discretionary spending meets all three of those criteria, but we'll never know because government programs are rarely evaluated for effectiveness, efficiency or necessity. According to the Government Accountability Office, the government runs 50 different programs for the homeless across eight agencies, 23 programs for housing aid in four agencies, 26 programs for food and nutrition aid among six agencies, 27 programs on teen pregnancy, 130 programs for at-risk youth, 10 agencies to promote exports and 342 programs for economic development. The federal government runs 47 different job-training programs at a cost to the taxpayer of $18 billion annually. The GAO found that "Only 5 of the 47 programs ... examined had done detailed impact studies" and that among those "the effects of participation were not consistent across programs, with only some demonstrating positive impacts that tended to be small, inconclusive, or restricted to short-term impacts."

Entitlements eat up two-thirds of federal spending and are excluded from sequestration, which is too bad because an estimated $20 billion is wasted on Medicare fraud every year. As for Medicaid, a New York Times investigation found that between 10 and 40 percent of New York's spending was lost to fraud and theft yearly. Other estimates suggest that 33 percent of Earned Income Tax Credits (about $9 billion annually) are erroneous or fraudulent.

Sure, the government performs some necessary functions, but it is also vulnerable to abuse because nobody is watching. Consider the example of Al Gore. Upon leaving the vice presidency, Mr. Gore's net worth was estimated at $2 million. But with the advent of Mr. Obama's "investments" in green energy, Mr. Gore has profited handsomely. His company, General Investment Management, invested in a number of companies that received "green" subsidies. Gore's net worth (before the sale of Current TV to Al Jazeera) was estimated by the Washington Post to be $100 million. The Obama economy has been awful for average Americans but exceedingly profitable for the well connected.

Some government spending is necessary, much is sinfully wasteful, and the remainder is corrupt. If Americans have stopped believing that then a key aspect of the American character is dead.


Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
 
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