America became a great nation because at key moments in our history our national leaders were willing to make sacrifices to preserve freedom and opportunity for future generations. Yet, that tradition is being abandoned today in Washington. Congressional leaders have decided that sending money home for pet projects, appeasing special interests and catering to well-heeled lobbyists are more important than giving future generations the hope and opportunity that was sacrificed for us. Politicians have found it easier to make the easy decision now and hope they do not have to deal with the difficult decision tomorrow.
Congress’s inability to distinguish what is a true national priority from a local, parochial interest illustrates this problem. For instance, while many Americans enjoy a bike ride on one of the bike trails in their local communities, few Americans would want to fund bike paths at the expense of bridge repair and maintenance. Yet, Congress did just that last year. By a vote of 80 to 18 senators went on record defending their right to earmark $12 million in new funds for bike paths instead of waiting until the more than 150,000 structurally deficient bridges were repaired.
Congress also last year voted by 68 to 26 to protect their parochial pork projects instead of ensuring that every child had private or public health insurance. The amendment I offered would have prohibited the $470 million worth of earmarks in last year’s Labor/HHS/Education appropriations bill from being funded until the secretary of Health and Human Services certified that each child in America younger than 18 is covered with either a private or public health insurance plan. Despite a lot of rhetoric about the need to provide health care to kids, the Senate showed that it was more committed to its pork.
A timeless example of misplaced priorities in Congress continues, of course, to be the Senate’s lopsided 82-to-15 vote to protect funding for the “Bridge to Nowhere” in 2005.
The actual amendment I offered would have redirected funding from two dubious Alaska bridge projects–the Gravina “Bridge to Nowhere” and the Knik Arm Bridge–costing a combined $452 million to reconstruction of the Twin Spans Bridge connecting New Orleans and Slidell, La., damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Despite howls of justifiable outrage about the Katrina recovery effort, nearly all senators, when push came to shove, put their pork ahead of hurricane victims.
With our nation on an unsustainable course, Congress simply can’t continue to tolerate business as usual. Conservatives need to unite behind a common sense message, supported by Senator John McCain, that it is possible for Congress to restrain spending. After all, if taxpayers can tighten their belts in tough economic times, so can politicians in Washington.
Over the past three years I’ve tried to detail the more than $300 billion the federal government wastes every year. A few of the areas of recurring waste include:
Medicare Fraud $80 billion
Medicaid Fraud $30 billion
overpayments (net loss) $15 billion
Department of Defense maintenance
of unused buildings $3 billion
DOD performance awards
not earned $8 billion
Emergency spending for
non-emergencies $15 billion
Mismanagement of UN
contributions $2 billion
Information Technology (IT)
mismanagement $10 billion
National Flood Insurance
Program (NFIP) $17.5 billion
Other potential areas of savings include tax reform ($100 billion) and a simple 5% improvement in efficiency in each agency ($50 billion). The list goes on and on.
With greater oversight, accountability and the elimination of waste, fraud and duplication, we could balance the federal budget and let taxpayers keep more of the dollars they earn. The American people have to stop politicians who view the federal treasury as an endless pot of funds they believe is rightfully theirs to spend. This is the kind of thinking that is causing the dollar to decline and the American economy to slip. The problem in Washington is over-spending, not under-taxation.
Sooner or later Congress will have to confront the reality that we are on an unsustainable course that is a severe threat to not just our future prosperity, but our ability to advance the cause of freedom in a world that doesn’t always share our values. Congress should remember Will Durant’s warning that, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”
Congress can put our nation back on a sustainable course but that will happen only if Congress spends more time doing oversight and less time pursuing parochial politics. With enough public pressure Congress can refocus federal priorities, leave more money in the pockets of taxpayers and, most importantly, leave this country stronger, more prosperous and more free for those who will come after us.