Sen. Tom Coburn is bucking his own party by exposing specific items to cut in the Pentagon's $600 billion budget. As Republican leaders battle President Obama over his insistence on taking half the Jan. 2 mandatory sequestration from defense, the Oklahoma Republican on Thursday blew the lid off billions that could be saved without actually undermining our troops.
Dr. Coburn labels the Pentagon the "Department of Everything" in his report outlining $67.9 billion in cuts over 10 years. It should guide lawmakers as they begin to consider how to deal with the first $109 billion in spending reductions due Jan. 2 under the terms of the August 2011 debt-ceiling deal.
"We are making the point that, if you want to cut another $500 billion out of defense, you can get 15 percent just on things that have nothing to do with defense," the senator told The Washington Times in an interview Friday. "It's not hard to cut spending in Washington. It's hard to get members to cut because they are clueless about the details of the spending and refuse to do the hard work of oversight."
Unlike the usual Washington rhetoric that calls a less-than-requested increase in spending a "cut," the items Dr. Coburn uncovered would actually result in spending going down each year. That's important, because each real cut further slows the automatic spending growth to which bureaucrats have grown accustomed.
Dr. Coburn applies his scalpel to five main areas: grocery stores ($9 billion), alternative energy ($700 million), education ($15.2 billion), nonmilitary research and development ($6 billion) and overhead and supply services ($37 billion).
Within each of these broad categories, the random projects being funded by taxpayers are truly outrageous. These include development of a caffeine-tracking smartphone app, production of a reality cooking show on grilling, operation of microbreweries and the creation of a bomb detector that has a paltry 47 percent success rate.
The Pentagon has also wasted $1.5 million in coming up with new beef jerky flavors like salami, chipotle and smoked ham. The diligent researchers are even trying to develop the meat snack out of fish that tastes "less fishy."
What's more fishy is that the military spends $50,000 a year per student running 64 elementary and secondary schools on U.S. bases for the families of servicemen. That's as much as the tuition, room and board at Harvard. As the report explained, the average state cost for public school is $11,000 per child, which means the military is sending four-and-a-half times more without offering kids a better education.
As Dr. Coburn said, the across-the-board sequestration is the "coward politicians' way of cutting spending" because it doesn't identify waste and redundancy. While it is not right that half of the fiscal cliff cuts come from defense, it doesn't follow that existing money can't be spent more wisely. Republicans need to stick to their principles and pay for trillions in borrowing with cuts, the reductions just need to be made in a smart way.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
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