Everyday government pork
Everyone in Washington is fighting over tax cuts, spending limits and the debt ceiling. But the real problem is the fat in all levels of government spending that must be slimmed down. A quick media survey uncovers poorly monitored and misspent government funds at every level of the system.
One of the most commonly reported spending issues is welfare fraud. When Massachusetts was sued to reach more citizens on welfare to get them registered to vote, 19,000 of the welfare recipients were not living at their listed addresses. The state, like most states, distributes welfare benefits electronically so that the benefits can be retrieved anywhere. If all these welfare recipients were illegally receiving support, that would be at least $138 million annually that Massachusetts has overspent. The Boston Herald had the story:
“The fact that 19,000 of these came back undeliverable tells me DTA has no idea where these people live, obviously, and is not doing the background checks they should be doing,” O’Connell said.
“It goes to show this program is just fraught with fraud and abuse and needs a complete overhaul,” said O’Connell, who has made her name on Beacon Hill as a leading legislator for welfare reform.
It was not clear last night how many of the missing clients have moved out of state or are otherwise no longer eligible to receive Massachusetts benefits.
But welfare chiselers are really the smallest part of misspent government funds. The New York Times’ Louise Story racked up one of the best journalistic efforts of the year with her expose on state and local corporate subsidies. Essentially, corporations are making out like bandits from government largesse:
A Times investigation has examined and tallied thousands of local incentives granted nationwide and has found that states, counties and cities are giving up more than $80 billion each year to companies. The beneficiaries come from virtually every corner of the corporate world, encompassing oil and coal conglomerates, technology and entertainment companies, banks and big-box retail chains.
The cost of the awards is certainly far higher. A full accounting, The Times discovered, is not possible because the incentives are granted by thousands of government agencies and officials, and many do not know the value of all their awards. Nor do they know if the money was worth it because they rarely track how many jobs are created. Even where officials do track incentives, they acknowledge that it is impossible to know whether the jobs would have been created without the aid.
Then there is the real big-boy spending on America’s massive global military infrastructure. Four percent of the gross national product of the U.S. goes to support military operations. President Obama has just signed the $633 billion 2013 defense authorization act. Mother Jones reprinted a piece from TomDispatch that explains that a lot of the military spending is going overseas:
Washington still easily maintains the largest collection of foreign bases in world history: more than 1,000 military installations outside the 50 states and Washington, DC. They include everything from decades-old bases in Germany and Japan to brand-new drone bases in Ethiopia and the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean and even resorts for military vacationers in Italy and South Korea.
In Afghanistan, the US-led international force still occupies more than 450 bases. In total, the US military has some form of troop presence in approximately 150 foreign countries, not to mention 11 aircraft carrier task forces—essentially floating bases—and a significant, and growing, military presence in space. The United States currently spends an estimated $250 billion annually maintaining bases and troops overseas.
Congress pledges to go after entitlements and to reform them. This is a necessary step to move toward a balanced federal budget. But the pork is everywhere, with many more pockets than I can describe here. Cutting pork certainly cuts jobs. But our obesity is not sustainable, and the nation needs to go on a spending diet. It’s that, or starve in the long term.