- - Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The candidate who wins the presidency in 2016 will be the one who vows to wage all-out war on a bloated, inefficient, corrupt government in need of a top-to-bottom, budget-cutting revolution.

Next to an underperforming economy, the problem that concerns most Americans is the government’s $18 trillion debt, fueled by six years of budget deficits saturated in red ink (including four consecutive years of trillion dollar plus deficits), and spending scandals as far as the eye can see.

I think we’ve reached the tipping point when legions of angry voters are ready to rally behind a complete overhaul of government spending practices that calls for the end of waste-ridden, unworkable, needless programs and shrinks total expenditures down to a more manageable, affordable size.

The candidate who seizes this issue has to level with voters about how bad things have gotten in the past six years: Social Security paying out millions to dead people; the Veterans Affairs’ lengthy medical delays for ailing veterans who died waiting; and the Internal Revenue Service deceitfully using its powers to fight conservative educational groups opposed to the Obama administration’s policies.

Few Americans fully understand how many of their hard-earned tax dollars are being wasted because government has grown so big, it’s harder to get handle on it.

I’ve dug into hundreds of spending scandals over the years (in my books “Fat City” and “City of Scandals”) with the help of top government auditors. They tell me wasteful spending has soared in this decade, with somewhere between $500 billion and $1 trillion in waste, fraud and inefficiency in hundreds of forgotten, outdated, unworkable agencies that need to be abolished.

This is an issue that cries out for a crusader to rescue our country and future generations from job-killing taxation and suffocating debt that is eating away at the foundations of our once-mighty economy.

In the last six years we’ve seen one sordid scandal after another emerge from this administration, each worse than the other. There are too many to recount here, but here’s a few of them:

President Obama came into office promising to invest in a green revolution by loaning billions of dollars to solar companies. Four years later, 19 of 34 firms he funded were bankrupt, and 15 were in deep financial trouble.

In most of these cases, taxpayers were left holding the bag to pay off billions of dollars in the loan guarantees.

But the deeper story is that Mr. Obama’s green technology program in the Department of Energy was being pushed by political cronies who had a vested interest in the billions spent.

More recently, we’ve learned that the Social Security program’s record-keeping system is a costly nightmare.

In 2013, it was first revealed that 1,546 dead people were paid $31 million — some of them getting benefits for at least two decades.

Then this week, Social Security’s new inspector general revealed that the situation is far worse than many thought: He discovered 6.5 million names in its records born before June 1901 whose deaths had never been documented.

It remains unclear just how many benefit checks were cashed in behalf of the deceased, but investigators say it could be in the hundreds of thousands.

Officials estimate that more than $40 million in erroneous payments were sent to beneficiaries who have died.

If all this sounds less than precise, that is because the government’s data-keeping system is a Rube Goldberg contraption that is often unable to verify whether all of its beneficiaries are alive or dead.

Meantime, entitlement programs from Medicare to the Earned Income Tax Credit are rife with fraud at every level, according to Government Accountability Office audits.

The government is drowning in duplication where many hundreds of programs perform the same work in welfare, job training and dozens of other objectives.

The GAO “has identified duplication and inefficiencies within the federal government costing ‘tens of billions of dollars annually,’ and thus hundreds of billions a decade,” according to Stanford economist Michael Boskin.

Then there’s the federal workforce. It is estimated that 40 percent of the federal civilian workforce will retire in the next decade. Much of it can be replaced by automated, digital technology and consolidated agencies that auditors say will save hundreds of billions of dollars.

Three decades ago, Ronald Reagan ran for president by focusing, in large part, on a long laundry list of wasteful, inefficient, fraud-ridden government programs, promising to do something about them.

With every boondoggle or spending scandal he spoke about, angry voters rallied to his call to reduce the size and cost of government in order to lower the tax burden on the American worker.

Reagan appointed an army of inspectors general who were said to be “meaner than junkyard dogs,” who attacked waste, fraud and abuse with a vengeance. In many cases, they saved taxpayers a lot of money.

He appointed the Grace Commission, whose budget-cutting recommendations led to many needed reforms and spending cuts, though he lost some big battles, too.

His budget director, David Stockman, was the first man in that post to produce a detailed directory of programs and agencies that needed to be cut or eliminated.

In the end, Congress and the bureaucracy defeated him in many of his efforts to prune back government spending. In one memorable interview with me, shortly before he left government, Mr. Stockman bitterly blamed Republicans who fought to preserve programs he wanted to curb or kill.

That doesn’t mean the battle’s lost. But it’s going to take a supremely confident, credible candidate to make the next election all about creating a fiscally responsible, balanced-budget government that’s smaller, smarter, stronger and, eventually, debt-free.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.

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