Sometimes it’s hard to figure out which is more infuriating for taxpayers: illegal fraud in a government program, or legal abuse of that program. The State of New York recently took $140 million in federal “stimulus” money and handed it out with no strings attached to people on welfare for the ostensible purpose of back-to-school needs.
Yesterday the Wall Street Journal took a lengthy look (subscription required) at the deteriorating financial situation of domestic biofuel producers. According to the Journal:
Over the weekend, CNN.com reported on a cringe-inducing story out of the Department of Veterans Affairs:
“While hundreds of thousands of disability claims lay backlogged at the Department of Veterans Affairs, thousands of technology employees at the department received $24 million in bonuses, a new report says.”
Another day, another story on financial troubles at the federal government’s mail monopolist. We don’t expect the government to make our blue jeans, transport fruits and veggies from the farm to the market, build computers and IPods, or manage the manufacturing of automobiles, so why must it continue to deliver first-class mail?
My old boss, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), has a report out this morning that identifies 100 “questionable” projects funded by the federal “stimulus” package. I’m not going to mention particular examples here. I’ll simply say that I hope the theme that readers of the Coburn report come away with is that the federal government should not fund state and local activities. The numerous examples in the Coburn report provide concrete evidence of this truth, and I wish the report would have spent more time in the introduction fleshing it out. Fortunately, my colleague Chris Edwards wrote an excellent policy analysis on the problems with federal subsidies to state and local government. Thus, I would encourage those interested to read the Coburn and Edwards reports together.
A month ago, President Obama issued a list of proposed spending cuts that I dismissed as “unserious” due to the fact that they were trivial when compared to his proposed spending and debt increases. Today, the House Republican leadership released a list of proposed spending cuts.
I’d love to say I’m impressed, but I can’t.
Both proposals indicate that neither side of the aisle grasps the severity of the country’s ugly fiscal situation, or at least has the guts to do anything concrete about it.
The GOP proposal claims savings of more than $375 billion over five years, the bulk of which ($317 billion) would come from holding non-defense discretionary spending increases to no more than inflation over the next five years.
First, it should be cut — period. Second, non-defense discretionary spending only amounts to about 17% of all the money the federal government spends in a year, so singling out this pot of money misses the bigger picture. At least, defense spending, which is almost entirely discretionary, should be included in any cap. But it has become an article of faith in the Republican Party that reining in defense spending is tantamount to putting a white flag in the Statue of Liberty’s hand.
Yesterday the House and Senate passed a bloated $3.5 trillion budget blueprint for fiscal year 2010. According to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), “What is important to us as a nation is reflected in this budget. It’s a very happy day for our country.”
Included in the blueprint is language that calls for an equal pay raise between military employees and civilian federal employees. President Obama had originally proposed slightly higher pay for members of the armed services. The exact pay raise for bureaucrats will be determined in the appropriations process, but it’s likely to be a hike of anywhere from 2.9% to 3.9%. This would come on top of last year’s 3.9% raise.
Omitted from the blueprint was language included in the Senate version by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that would have “required agency managers to report to Congress within 90 days of the bill’s passage on any programs that are ‘duplicative, inefficient or failing, with recommendations for eliminating and consolidating these programs.’” A simple report to be issued by the agencies themselves. That’s it. There would be no guarantee that anything would actually be cut or consolidated.
No, this headline and story is not brought to you by The Onion.
The latest proof that there’s nothing more permanent than a temporary federal program:
As drought forces families in the West to shorten their showers and let their lawns turn brown, two Depression-era government programs have been paying some of the nation’s biggest farms hundreds of millions of dollars to grow water-thirsty crops in what was once desert.
My sympathy for this farmer lies somewhere between that which I have for Bernie Madoff and Ted Stevens:
Jim Hansen, a 69-year-old cotton grower in California’s Central Valley, said his family business would crumble if the government took away low-cost water and the nearly $1.7 million in crop payments he received in 2007 and 2008.
For more on the insanity that is federal farm policy and why the USDA needs to be downsized and/or done away with, click here.
The spirit of 1776 is alive and well in Kauai:
Their livelihood was being threatened, and they were tired of waiting for government help, so business owners and residents on Hawaii’s Kauai island pulled together and completed a $4 million repair job to a state park — for free.
“We can wait around for the state or federal government to make this move, or we can go out and do our part,” Slack said. “Just like everyone’s sitting around waiting for a stimulus check, we were waiting for this but decided we couldn’t wait anymore.”
It’s amazing what a little private initiative and economic incentive can do. Contrast this story with that of a bridge being built to connect Microsoft campuses in Redmond, WA with federal “stimulus” money.
I’m sympathetic to the oft-repeated saying that there are really three parties in Washington: Republicans, Democrats, and Appropriators. This situation is likely to be demonstrated this evening when Republican members of the Senate Appropriations Committee provide enough votes for Democratic Sen. Harry Reid to close off debate and proceed to final passage of the pork-laden $410 billion fy2009 omnibus appropriations bill.
Greasing the skids for bigger government will be almost $8 billion in earmarks contained in the bill. Fox News is pointing out that almost all of the Republican Senators expected or likely to support the Democratic measure stand to deliver quite a bit of pork to constituents and special interests. Not coincidentally, all of the senators named, except Sen. Snowe of Maine, are appropriators. As a matter of fact, if you look at the top 20 senators (both parties) in terms of dollars of earmarks secured for this bill, 15 are appropriators.
Bottom line: Appropriators love spending and they particularly love pork. Sen. Snowe just likes the government spending other people’s money.