Capitol Idea: Report Showing Billions in Government Waste Helps, Not Hurts, Democrats

A new government report exposes how massive duplication of federal programs and operations wastes billions of taxpayer dollars a year. But instead of being fuel for further conservative attacks against the government, it ought to become a weapon of smart Democrats to fend off the current Republican budget-cutting rampage. Let me explain.

Before the results of this Government Accountability Office (GAO) study were even known, House Republicans last month approved an array of deep, and often harmful, spending cuts to a variety of federal programs. It didn’t matter whether the programs which fell under the GOP ax were effective, ineffective, duplicative or otherwise; they were cut all the same. President Obama and other Democrats also have shown a willingness to prune the mounting federal budget deficit. But rather than hack at programs wholesale, which could fire teachers, harm the U.S. economy, and potentially put security at risk, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to make what he calls “smart cuts.” This new report can help do just that.

No one, not liberals, conservatives, Democrats, or Republicans, wants, or defends, waste. And we ought to root out the true waste before slashing at programs that are actually effective and help Americans. The GAO report now provides a clear road map to do so. Every dollar saved by adopting GAO recommendations is a dollar that need not be pruned from education, the environment, science and innovation, and other worthwhile federal endeavors. Once Democrats enact these recommendations, they will have stripped Republicans of the waste argument, one of their most potent pejoratives against the federal government.

If House Republicans had been intellectually honest, that they wanted to trim spending in a useful, not partisan, way, they would have waited until the GAO report came out before proposing the draconian cuts they laid out in their spending bill a few weeks back. Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, had ordered the report some time ago, so its release was no real surprise.

The GAO is the nonpartisan watchdog agency of Congress. Its analysts report results based on facts and figures, not politics. Now that its report is here, it gives lawmakers an opportunity and a challenge. It is an opportunity because the report provides a way to solve the current budget impasse that threatens to shut down the federal government in two weeks if Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on a spending plan.

Republicans and Democrats ought to set aside whatever cuts they advocated previously. Instead, they should pick up the GAO report and write it into legislation. Doing so would cut waste that is real, not imagined. It’s a challenge, especially for Republicans, because actually enacting the GAO recommendations would cut the government based on fact, not ideology, and potentially spare dozens of effective federal programs on which millions of Americans rely each day. Coburn is no liberal, but he makes my case even better than I do, “This report also shows we could save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars every year without cutting services,” Coburn says.

Let me repeat that: save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars every year without cutting services. GAO proves that we can cut our budget deficit — without cutting services. Indeed, much of the GAO report takes direct aim at bloated Pentagon bureaucracies, not the non-defense spending Republicans want to wipe out. If Republicans refuse to go along, Democrats should force Republicans to prove why their partisan budget cuts are any better than budget cuts based on nonpartisan fact.

Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as Report Showing Billions in Government Waste Helps, not Hurts, Democrats on Blogcritics.

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