My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:
Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, perhaps taking a page from the late former Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Award, has released his second annual report titled “Federal Fumbles: 100 Ways the Government Dropped the Ball.” As we peek over the horizon at the dawn of a new administration, it is a good time to remember just how much of our money our federal government spends and misspends.
For some perspective, the federal government spends about $3.8 trillion per year. That is about 21 percent of our national gross domestic product. Put another way, that is roughly $12,000 for every person in the United States. If you did not pay $12,000 for every member of your household in federal taxes this year, then you are not paying your fair share.
But as we all know, the federal government spends more than it takes in and makes up the difference by borrowing. By the end of this year, the total national debt will exceed $19.5 trillion and is increasing every year. By the end of the decade, Americans will spend more on interest payments on that debt than on our national defense.
Where does all of that money go? Some of it goes to Constitutionally mandated items like national defense, regulating immigration, the post office, the federal court system, etc., but the majority goes to items never imagined by the writers of our Constitution like Social Security, Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, education, and of course, that massive interest payment. And within all of that spending, both the Constitutionally mandated and the rest, there are millions of examples of waste, fraud, and inexplicable incompetence. Here are a few of my favorites from Lankford’s compilation: One of the single biggest areas of waste is in overpayments made by Medicaid, and the problem is getting worse. In 2015, 9.8 percent of all Medicaid payments, or $29.1 billion, was thrown away in improper payments to people who did not qualify, were in jail, or were dead. In 2016, the problem actually got worse with 11.5 percent ($38.9 billion) being wasted. That is enough waste to pay the full Medicaid benefits for 1.9 million households.
On a smaller scale, the National Science Foundation spent almost $200,000 to fund a study called, “Persistence after failure: understanding neural and behavioral responses to negative outcomes.” The study basically concluded that people should think happy thoughts. Perhaps this study should be forwarded to the folks in the Clinton camp.
The National Endowment for the Arts spent $35,000 of our money to pay for an art exhibit showing the changes in Iranian art over the last 30 years. Most of that money went to Iran and Iranian artists. You know, the same Iran that funds terrorists, kills Americans and wants to kill more.
The State Department also spent $1 million to pay for a dozen foreign filmmakers to go to Hollywood to learn about how to make movies. Even though the American film industry takes in billions of dollars and its luminaries are among the wealthiest people in the country, our federal government thought the lowly federal taxpayer should foot the bill to educate foreigners about their craft. Given how many bad movies come out of Hollywood, perhaps the money would have been better spent sending American filmmakers to Bollywood.
For some inexplicable reason, the Department of Justice spent $70 million to build tribal prison facilities in Arizona. The reason that the expense was inexplicable is because the facilities built were 250 percent larger and twice as expensive than what was needed. What does the DOJ plan to do in Arizona to fill its new prisons?
Of course, I could go on for another thousand pages, but that is, by itself, illustrative. There is no shortage of examples of waste, fraud, and incompetence in our federal government. When added to the money that our government spends on things that are not required, or allowed, by our Constitution, it is easy to see why we spend $3.8 trillion per year of money we do not have.
As our incoming president is pimping another $1 trillion in wasteful stimulus spending like his predecessor and seemingly lacks any appetite for fiscal restraint, I fear that Lankford’s third annual report will be any less maddening