In a budget nearing $4 trillion a year, it strains credulity to hear members of the deficit supercommittee say they're still no closer to finding $1.2 trillion in savings over the next decade.
This is the budget-cutting target set for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction that was part of the deal in this summer's debt-limit agreement. The 12 House and Senate members sitting on this bipartisan panel have until Thanksgiving to come up with their deficit-cutting plan or face deep, automatic, indiscriminate cuts throughout the budget, including entitlements.
"If it was easy, it would have been done by now. No decisions have been made," said Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, a budget hawk and former director of the Office of Management and Budget.
But does anyone really believe we can't find massive budget savings in a government that is awash in wasteful spending and rampant duplication; programs that are rife with corruption, fraud and inefficiencies; and agencies that are outdated, outmoded, unworkable, unneeded and, most important, unaffordable?
This isn't rocket science that requires special skills. It does, however, require common sense and a rigid intolerance for waste and wantonness that's rampant throughout an overpadded, overpaid bureaucracy made up of thousands of departments, agencies, commissions, boards and other programs.
Making this panel's failure even more unacceptable is the realization that much of its work already has been done for it over many decades in countless federal investigations, reports, audits and exposes whose pages could wallpaper the Washington Monument from top to bottom 100 times over.
The programs ripe for the ax have been detailed richly by watchdog agencies such as the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Budget Office and the inspector general's offices and in sweeping earlier reports like that done by the Grace Commission in the 1980s, which dug into every nook of the federal behemoth, uncovering a mountain of waste, fraud and abuse that is larger than ever.
These reports are all still there, gathering dust on congressional shelves. The programs they targeted are still there, getting budget increases year after year and, worse, being enlarged and duplicated with new programs when the old ones do not work or are not needed.
There's been little or no actual oversight by Congress itself into how this money is being spent. In most cases, members of Congress have no real idea where the money is going, nor do they care to know until it becomes a front-page scandal.
Instead, their focus for many decades has been on new legislation that has added trillions of dollars in new spending, swelling ever-higher deficits that in just the past three years have run up an unprecedented $1.3 trillion to $1.5 trillion a year in red ink.
In the 1980s, when federal spending was far lower than it is now, I wrote several books that exposed - program by program - the rising level of waste, mismanagement and sheer extravagance that engulfed most of the government.
Two of those books, "Fat City," and "Washington - City of Scandals," were used by the Reagan administration in its attack on big government. Their findings led to the Grace Commission, which fingered hundreds of billions of dollars in needless spending, only to come under attack from big spenders in Congress and the special interests that were enriched by those programs.
Seeing his proposed cuts condemned, ignored and even ridiculed, President Reagan expressed his frustration to me in an Oval Office interview in 1981, shortly after his recovery from an assassination attempt.
As the interview concluded, Reagan quietly drew me aside near his desk and said, "Just between us, one of the hardest things in a government this size - no matter what our people way on top are trying to do - is to know down there, underneath, is that permanent structure that is resisting everything you're doing."
We have seen this entrenched opposition to needed spending cuts in this administration, which has enlarged government by trillions of dollars in three short years. We see in it Congress, where, at the beginning of the debt-limit debate, Senate Democratic leaders refused to take up the Republican-passed House budget cuts.
In my books, I largely focused on eliminating programs and detailed a list of more than 100 agencies that cried out to be abolished or cut back significantly, which potentially would have saved trillions of dollars over the coming decades.
They included the Small Business Administration, which barely helped 1 percent of small businesses; Community Development Block Grants that went to wealthy cities and towns; billions in corporate welfare that bankrolled Fortune 500 companies; Urban Development Grants that built ritzy hotel complexes; the Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration, a scandal-ridden, pork-barrel giveaway program that failed to create jobs.
The costs of these and many other programs totaled about $200 billion back then. Today, their costs approach close to nearly half the panel's $1.2 trillion savings goal.
This is not as hard as it looks. It takes political will and guts, something that so far is sorely missing among many of the members of this misnamed "supercommittee."
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.
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