Mr. President: Instead of harming the troops, cut here instead

In the political battle over sequestration, President Obama is jumping full-tilt into a scorched-earth tactic: eliminating tuition assistance for the Marines and Army.  Instead of using the troops for dishonorable political ends, the president should look to a recent op-ed and interview by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), who outlined billions in cuts the president could look at to eliminate wasteful spending.

First from the op-ed, options abound:

  • Federal dollars were spent to study "how cocaine affects the reproductive habits of Japanese quail" at a cost of $181,000.
  • Fourteen point eight million dollars is spent on unemployment checks sent to millionaires.
  • Senator Coburn says he sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood outlining $1.2 billion in savings that cover the alleged $600-million shortfall two-to-one -- a shortfall Secretary LaHood claims will cause flight delays.
  • Senator Coburn points out that the Transportation Department has $34 billion in funds lying around that have already been approved by Congress that could be spent, instead of just letting the money further waste away.
  • The senator also highlighted subsidies for airports serving fewer than ten passengers per day.
  • Over at Homeland Security, one $830-million grant program to protect a pumpkin festival in Keene, NH (my home state, and a good pumpkin festival, indeed...but not one deserving DHS protection) could be cut by one third to cover all TSA furloughs
  • According to Senator Coburn, his office did a report in 2008 showing that federal employees were AWOL for 3.5 million hours in 2007 -- enough to "screen 1.7 billion checked bags, or enough to avoid security delays for nearly four years."
  • The big area of waste Senator Coburn outlines is, of course, duplication:

Another source of potential savings is duplication of federal services, which accounts for $364 billion spent every year, according to the Government Accountability Office. Washington spends $30 million for 15 financial-literacy programs run by 13 separate agencies. Taxpayers also spend $3.1 billion on 209 separate science, technology, engineering and mathematics education programs across 13 agencies. Why not fund one good program in these areas instead of dozens that don't work and waste money?

Over at Fox & Friends last week, the senator outlined more wasteful spending:

  • $10,000 on dances to promote a trolley system in San Francisco
  • $386,000 for studying Tai Chi
  • According to the senator, elimination of just some of the duplication referenced above could save $100 billion annually across 1,500 programs -- and that's before examining defense spending.
  • $1.65 million for the Amazon Center of Excellence in Malaria

On his website, Senator Coburn has numerous examples of other inefficient spending that could be cut.  He has sent letters to several agencies outlining these cuts.  They include:

  • Not hiring federal employees for the following positions: "a social media manager at FDA; 23 openings related to recreation, painters at the Air Force, librarians, and public affairs specialists among others[.]"
  • The Department of Agriculture could cut "two upcoming conferences in California and Oregon set to feature 'guest chefs' and 'exceptional wines'for tastings[.]"
  • The senator sent a letter to the Pentagon "calling for DOD to cut waste like producing cooking shows and $5.2 million studies on how fish view democracy before furloughing essential personnel[.]"
  • A few more examples of waste "include a $212 million detection behavior program said to 'lack outcome-oriented goals' by the GAO, a $75 million chemical facilities program which has failed to accomplish its goals at a handful of locations, and $5.25 billion in unspent FEMA grant funds[.]"
  • And back in February, "Dr. Coburn called for the Administration to cancel their 100 city tour promoting federal spending as sequestration approaches" in a letter to the administration.

For all the administration's claims that federal spending shouldn't go down because every dollar is mission-critical, Senator Coburn has the real story in his WSJ op-ed:

The longer this fight drags on, the harder it will be for the administration to pretend it can't find savings. After all, what is dramatic isn't the size of the sequestration cuts but recent increases in government spending. Since 2002, total federal spending has increased nearly 89% while median household income has dropped 5% and median wealth has dropped 23%. In other words, while families have been doing more with less, government has been doing less with more.

In the op-ed, Senator Coburn outlines where furloughs can be replaced with cuts in waste.  The staff at Fox said the Amazon Malaria dollars should be cut before TSA workers, and the Tai Chi study before Medicare.  In the end, though, furloughs will have to happen if the federal government is to downsize.  Medicare and Social Security cuts (or "reforms," in political language) will have to take place.  And eliminating the TSA is a good idea at any time, both for dollars and reasons of constitutional limitations.

In the short run, though, the battle is sequestration.  The administration has clearly decided that hurting the American people is more important than making government run well.  Tea Party activists should make sure Congress knows we're watching, and won't wait long for members to stand up to the administration and point out that reducing federal spending by 2.5% has to hurt only if the administration wants it to.

Dustin Siggins is the principal blogger for Tea Party Patriots, a national grassroots coalition with more than 3,500 local chapters.  He is the co-author of a forthcoming book on how the national debt will impact the lives of young Americans.

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