- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 22, 2005

A few weeks ago the Republican House leadership claimed the federal budget was cut to the bone and there was no room for more reductions. Then, Majority Leader Tom DeLay was forced to step aside, producing a leadership shake-up. Suddenly the bones aren’t as bare as previously thought.

House Republicans say they want $50 billion cut from the 2006 budget by focusing on programs that offer health care for the poor, food stamps and farm subsidies. They are also looking at across-the-board reductions in other programs.

Here’s a suggestion: Don’t start with the poor. Start with the rich and with outmoded programs and wasteful spending.

In its latest Prime Cuts report, Citizens Against Government Waste has provided some splendid examples how government squanders money on ridiculous things. Among them is the Advanced Technology Program, created in 1988 to offer research and development technology grants to small businesses. Today, ATP is little more than a spending boondoggle with no purpose but to subsidize corporations, including many Fortune 500 companies. ATP has cost taxpayers $2.3 billion over the last 17 years.

The Defense Travel System, an in-house travel system used by the Defense Department and military personnel, was supposed to save money. It is a disaster. In addition to its inability to guarantee the lowest fare, DTS is so underutilized that in seven years a total of just 370,000 out of 5.6 million annual travelers have used DTS, according to Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, who tried but failed to scrap DTS. It costs $1,500 per transaction to support DTS, not including the cost of the plane ticket, Mr. Coburn says. “What we actually have is a system way more expensive than any system that has been developed in the private sector.” Were DTS scrapped, CAGW estimates yearly savings of $49 million.

The Freedom Cooperative Automotive Research Partnership is a joint effort by the Energy Department and private sector to pay for research into clean fuel cell technology. Efforts to cut gasoline consumption by finding alternative fuel sources have been tried before. They’ve misspent millions of dollars.

The market already is creating greater demand for hybrid cars as gas prices rise. Automakers are likelier now to meet consumer fuel-efficiency demands. Eliminating FreedomCAR would save taxpayers $481 million yearly, CAGW says.

Money also could be saved on farm subsidies. They’re expected to hit $17.8 billion this year. Two-thirds of the nation’s 2.1 million farms get no subsidies, either because the crops they grow are ineligible or because the farms are too small and marginal to qualify. According to the Environmental Working Group, the vast majority of farmers who get government checks receive only small amounts. Eighty percent of the recipients between 1995 and 2003 received, on average, $6,918 for the entire period. Seventy-two percent of farm-subsidy money goes to 10 percent of recipients, the richest farmers, partnerships, corporations, estates and other entities.

Various federal dairy programs are woefully out of date, CAGW said. Dairy subsidies began in the 1930s’ Great Depression when, according to a July 2004 Agriculture Department report, “most milk production (60 percent) was destined for fluid consumption, markets were predominately local and many dairy enterprises were part of diversified farming operations.” Today, most milk is used for manufactured dairy products, markets are national and dairy farms have become very specialized. Eliminating the dairy subsidy would save an estimated $1.15 billion yearly.

And so it goes with sugar subsidies ($160 million per year in savings), as well as the Small Business Administration’s Microloan program, the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. NASA chief Michael Griffin recently admitted the shuttle and space station were mistakes. They cost $3.39 billion annually, CAGW says.

One more example of waste: The Boston Herald reported many New Orleans’ Hurricane Katrina evacuees use their $2,000 government cash cards to buy liquor, watch strip shows and get lap dances on Cape Cod where 235 were brought and live at taxpayer expense at Camp Edwards on Otis Air Force Base.

Let’s hope Congress at least deprives these characters of their federally subsidized booze and lap dances and that we don’t hear any more “cut to the bone” nonsense.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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