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Sequester Solution: Common Sense

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            By the time you read this, the world may have ended. At least, that’s how some are treating the Sequester, which is apparently Latin for Apocalypse.

            The Sequester is an agreement between the President and Congress, by itself amazing enough. It means that, if our government can’t agree on a budget by a certain date, draconian spending cuts kick in and all the oxygen will be sucked out of the country.

            “Draconian” is a Greek word meaning “needed”. There’s not much doubt among anyone with common sense that huge government spending cuts are needed, since Congress’ addiction to red ink spending makes meth addicts look like paragons of self-control. Unfortunately, according to the President, these awful cuts the Congress is forcing on him will leave our borders unguarded, empty grocery stores in middle class neighborhoods, and leave the US Navy reduced to three row boats and a Speedo.

            Lately no one’s much mentioned the fact that the whole thing was the President’s idea to begin with.

            While spending cuts are obviously necessary, the panic of the Sequester never was. Preventing it was a matter of the President submitting and Congress approving a budget, which is kinda their job. But they don’t want to face the reality of painful cuts, and why should they? Despite the view that their main job is raising campaign funds, and despite the general disgust the public feels toward them, they keep getting elected anyway. So what if they’re driving the country to ruin? They still get a raise.

            While cuts can be painful, it doesn’t have to be as bad as they’re making it out to be. For instance, while we hear cries of border crossings and national parks being shut down and critical defense personnel laid off, how many Congressional and White House staff members are being pink slipped? How many IRS agents? Indeed, how many Federal paper-pushers are going to be standing next to factory workers on the unemployment line?

            That’s what I thought.

            So the cuts have to be made, but not where they’re being made. Let’s consider some recent stats:

            The government paid the wrong person, the wrong amount, or for the wrong reason last year, to the tune of $115.3 billion. I’m not sure if that includes paying Congressmen.

            Amtrak, which has never made a profit from serving food on their trains, lost $85 million doing so last year. That’s enough to give every poor person in the world five bags of peanuts and a small coffee.

            The Department of Agriculture has an intern program for the Office of the Chief Information Officer. They spent $2 million … and hired one intern.

            The government spent $1.7 billion maintaining buildings. Good idea – a little work now saves a lot later. But that money went toward maintaining 77,700 unused buildings.

            Homelessness is a real problem in this country, which should be addressed by a consolidated, united approach. Instead, we have seven different agencies with almost a dozen different programs, and apparently none have talked to the agency that doesn’t use 77,700 buildings.

            The Government Accountability Office, which is ignored by all of Washington, found 34 areas in which federal agencies have overlapping goals or services that duplicate each other. The cost of that is billions every year, according to the fourteen agencies assigned to study the matter.

            Also important: Teaching. So important that the Department of Education, Department of Energy, NASA, and the National Science Foundation run 82 different programs addressing teacher quality. They flunk math.

            Video conferencing is a cheap and efficient way to get people on the same page without travel and housing costs. Maybe someday the government will try that. For now, the Department of Justice alone held 1,832 conferences in one year, to the tune of $121 million. Just one, in Istanbul, cost $1.18 million.

            The Department of Veteran Affairs spread one conference out for 11 days, at a resort. That was $221,540.

            Another, held by the General Services Administration, cost $2,500 per employee. It was held in Vegas.

            There are thirty food safety laws, overseen by fifteen different federal agencies. And they still can’t explain to me the attraction of liver.

            The Navy bought 450,000 gallons of biofuel, which is a nice way to cut down on getting oil from countries that hate us. They paid $27 per gallon.

            You might be surprised, considering the government’s plan to hire more IRS agents, but the IRS already warehouses some unused furniture. It costs $860,000 annually.

            The Department of Energy bought a half million bucks worth of “green” energy manufacturing equipment. They can’t find it.

            The Bureau of Indian Affairs paid for a fish hatchery that operated for fourteen years. Unlike government spending ideas, no fish was ever hatched.

            The Departments of Agriculture and Energy got together to spend $76 million on a grant to turn wood into ethanol. The new plant closed a year later. Total ethanol produced: Zero.

            The feds also handed over a $25,000 grant, which really isn’t a drop in the bucket by their standards – hardly even a molecule in the bucket. Still, it’s interesting to note that all the money went to translate a Maldivian love ballad. That’s amore.

            That National Institutes of Health spent $170,000 to research the hookah smoking habits of Jordanians. Our National Institutes of Health.

            Maybe that’s not so surprising, considering the Agriculture Department funded a reality show that advertised American cotton – in India. Meanwhile, the EPA funded a $141,450 study of swine manure in China, which already has our bread. We gave the UN $1.2 million to promote clean fuel, so why didn’t they fund the non-producing ethanol plant?

            Then there’s taxpayer money spent on private business: Over a half billion to Solyndra, $46.5 million to Beacon Power, $73.1 million to Abound Solar … I should check and see how those businesses are doing.

            So, what does the Sequestration actually cut?

            Army training; military health care, ammunition, and fuel; FBI agents; nuclear weapons security; diplomatic security; food inspection; air traffic control; childhood vaccinations.

            So, there you go. Making the hard choices is replaced by automatic cuts to areas that actually make sense to fund, and our elected officials go on shirking their duties.

            How many of them are getting laid off?