Policy: Budgets & Deficits

Congress should do its job and keep the spending caps

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Op-Eds,Defense Spending,Waste and Fraud,Tom Coburn,Budgets and Deficits,Spending,Welfare,Sequester

Across America, families are tightening their belts, setting priorities and making hard choices in order to make ends meet. That's exactly what the American people expect of Congress.

Our refusal to demonstrate leadership in this area – and our tone deafness – is a major reason why our approval ratings are at an all-time low.

As budget negotiators continue to meet, I have been especially disappointed to hear some House Republicans make the case for violating the spending caps.

Voters don't elect Republicans to make the case that our government is too small and that the answer to our challenges is more spending, more debt and higher taxes that are required to pay for bigger government.

I'm sympathetic to those who argue that sequestration - across-the-board cuts - is not the best way to cut spending and that it disproportionately affects defense.

Sequestration is like mowing the flower beds instead of pulling the weeds – it leaves in place ineffective and fraudulent programs, and can hurt the rare program worthy of taxpayer dollars.

But arguing that underspending is our problem is an embarrassing message to hear from Republicans.

Over the past three years, the Government Accountability Office has documented at least $250 billion in duplication.

Had both parties been focused on this problem, we could have easily found a way to make smarter, more targeted cuts and still lived within the budget caps, which call for $967 billion in spending for fiscal 2014.

The options for savings are easy to find. GAO has already done Congress’ oversight work for it. For instance, we spend:

• $18 billion a year for more than 47 job-training programs, administered by nine different federal agencies across the federal bureaucracy.

• $30 million for 15 financial literacy programs at 15 different agencies. Since when was the federal government qualified to teach anyone about financial literacy?

• $15 billion on 679 renewable energy initiatives at 23 federal agencies.

• $1 billion a year on 94 “green” building initiatives at 11 agencies.

• $3 billion on 209 science, technology, engineering and math programs at 13 different federal agencies.

• $3 billion on duplicative data centers, many of which are housed at the Department of Defense.

I've listed dozens of other examples on my website. And I'll soon release even more examples of waste in my annual Waste-book report.

The fact that we are at this point is a pox on both houses. If Congress simply did its job, we could easily live within the caps and, in many cases, improve the effectiveness of programs through forcing consolidation and efficiency.

sequestration's impact on defense is all the more reason for defense hawks, in particular, to provide leadership and offer smart cuts. After all, the Pentagon itself is among the most wasteful and inefficient institutions of government.

Last year, I released a report called "Department of Everything" that detailed nearly $68 billion in annual nondefense defense spending that does nothing to advance our national security.

Turning a fraction of this waste into savings, along with making smart cuts in other areas, would move us much closer to abiding by the caps.

If President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Reid want to shut down the government in order to push for higher spending, let them make that case.

Republicans, however, should provide them no assistance. It’s time for Congress to stop complaining and start consolidating.

Republican Tom Coburn is the junior senator from Oklahoma.
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