Congress sheds light on government waste

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The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee discussed ways to reduce government waste at a hearing Thursday, with a group of think tanks offering recommendations that ranged from cutting military programs to stopping aid to states.

The groups’ priorities didn’t precisely align, and neither did their recommendations, but they found common ground on several concepts.

Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who head the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, set the tone for a balanced discussion by testifying first.

Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. (Melina Mara/Washington Post).
Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. (Melina Mara/Washington Post).

“The problem isn’t that we don’t know what the problem is,” Coburn said. “The problem is that we [political leaders] don’t act.”

Coburn recently released his annual “Waste Book,” identifying $30 billion in supposedly frivolous spending on programs that included a study on romance novels and unused Defense Department blimps.

Carper said cutting waste is a bipartisan issue, adding that “the key is to find that 80 percent that we agree on.”

Falling in line with that idea, the National Taxpayers Union and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group offered a series of proposals they agreed on, including:

1.) Ending “wasteful tax subsidies for agribusiness and other corporations”

2.) Eliminating low-priority and unnecessary defense programs

3.) Improving government operations

4.) Entitlement reform

U.S. Public Interest Group associate Jaimie Woo noted her group often disagrees with the National Taxpayers Union on policy approaches, but he said they are nonetheless “united in the belief that we spend far too much money on ineffective programs that do not serve the best interest of the American people.”

The Cato Institute and Citizens Against Government Waste also testified at the hearing, with both agreeing that the government should privatize some of its functions, among other ideas.

Several witnesses acknowledged that waste is hard to define, but Cato Institute director of tax policy Chris Edwards laid out some parameters, saying the government should focus on trimming “low-value activities.”

“It means government spending on projects that cost more than the benefits they create,” Edwards said. “It means subsidies and regulations that cause individuals and businesses to reduce their productive effort or to engage in unproductive activities.”

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Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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