The United States has always been a nation brimming from one end to the other with pragmatic people blessed with extra helpings of common sense. That’s one of the keys to understanding why Americans have built the richest country on earth, with the most widely distributed prosperity in human history. So how to explain what happens to such folks when they are elected to Congress, come to the nation’s capital and leave that abundant common sense back home? Is there something in the water in Washington that causes the governing class, for instance, to create 45 federal programs costing hundreds of billions of dollars and employing thousands of bureaucrats, all devoted to the same purpose?
The occasion for these editorial musings was provided by the release Tuesday of the Government Accountability Office's fourth annual report to Congress on improving efficiency and effectiveness in the federal government. These reports were initiated in 2010 at the behest of Sen. Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican who, unfortunately, is retiring from Congress to deal with some serious health issues. In its first three reports, the GAO pointed to 162 examples of duplication and overlap in federal programs and recommended 380 specific actions Congress could take to achieve billions of dollars in bureaucratic savings.
And what has Congress done in response to these GAO reports? "Over the past four years, GAO's duplication reports have identified a mother lode of potential savings. Sadly, Congress has done very little digging. We've achieved a small fraction of the savings GAO has revealed," Coburn said in a statement. "Turning this ready-made list of cuts into savings is one of the best ways Congress can regain the trust and confidence of the American people. No American -- regardless of party or ideology -- wants to see their tax dollars fund unnecessary duplication and bloat, particularly when real incomes have flat-lined and our economy is being dragged down by a $17 trillion debt.”
How can it be that Congress has done so little to remedy such egregious waste? Sure, the Senate is controlled by the Democrats and the House by the Republicans, but can't everyone agree that government should not spend tax dollars in redundant ways?
Consider this example from the current GAO report: “We found that 117,000 individuals received concurrent cash benefit payments, in fiscal year 2010, from the Disability Insurance and Unemployment Insurance programs totaling more than $850 million because current law does not preclude the receipt of overlapping benefits.”
If the Democrats and Republicans who run things in Washington can't agree that no individual should get both disability and unemployment benefits, then it’s time to send a new crop of senators and representatives to Congress. And nobody should be surprised if these fresh faces display no qualms whatsoever about turning our nation's capital upside down and inside out. Coburn can tell them where to start.