from the Congress Action newsletter

Waste, Fraud and Abuse

by: Kim Weissman
April 14, 1996

The average American family today pays more in taxes than they pay for food, clothing, and shelter combined. Despite the vast sums of tax money collected by our government, it continues to spend even more, piling up deficits, adding to the already enormous national debt. The traditional solutions to this problem have been to either raise taxes even higher, or reduce spending. Democrat majorities in Congress, with the assent of the republican minorities and presidents of both parties, have traditionally adopted the former solution, proclaiming that every last dollar spent by the federal leviathan is vitally important and cannot be cut. On the rare occasions they seek to actually cut spending, politicians have usually adopted the safe and easy route of proclaiming to eliminate Waste, Fraud, and Abuse. This approach appeals to both parties, and the W, F and A warriors proudly display their trophies: $600 Pentagon hammers, Cadillac-driving welfare queens, and even, rarely, actually eliminating such absurdities as the Tea Tasting Board.

The dirty little secret of federal spending, however, is that even if all the Waste, Fraud and Abuse were totally gone, the impact on the national debt would be minimal. At the root of our financial problem lies the intentional spending on pork barrel favors for special interests. The budget debates over the past year and a half, in which the first small steps have been taken to attack special interest spending, have highlighted the difficulty inherent in trying to slaughter sacred cows. The recent death of Ron Brown has brought to the fore once again the pledge of the House republican freshmen to eliminate the Commerce Department, prompting Bill Clinton to shamelessly politicize his eulogy of Brown in order to pledge the preservation of the department in all its bloated glory. Similar tactics have been used by congressional democrats and Bill Clinton throughout the past many months whenever any bureaucracy is approached with the cutting knife: point to the high-profile accomplishments, demonize republicans, and conveniently ignore all the rest of the special interest pork spending.

Most people have no idea of the extent to which our government wastes our money. The very mind-numbing nature of the following (by no means exhaustive) lists are the bureaucrats' greatest strength. Some of these groups existed to do good works before the rise of the welfare state, many sprung to life solely to suck the blood of the taxpayer, all have become addicts to federal money. The venality of forty years of one party rule in Congress created and nurtured them. Timidity of the other party preserves them. Lifetime bureaucrats scurry to protect them. Media snobs conspire with them. Peruse them carefully, note how many unions are included, and how often wealthy groups such as AARP, the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association get our money. Also note that these are only special interest groups receiving your money, and doesn't even touch all the pork projects funded directly, such as the $15 million from the Pentagon budget to develop an electric Algoremobile.

The Commerce Department, for example, contains such a variety of agencies that even Ron Brown would have had trouble explaining exactly what they do. The following is a list of the major subheads under the Commerce Department:
Bureau of Export Administration, Bureau of the Census, Economics and Statistics Administration, Economic Development Administration, Environmental Information Services, Economic Conversion Information Exchange, Clearinghouse about defense downsizing, International Trade Administration, Institute for Telecommunications Sciences, Information Infrastructure Task Force, Japan Technology Program, Minority Business Development Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Information Infrastructure, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Technical Information Service, National Oceanic Data Center, National Climatic Data Center, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, National Geophysical Data Center, Patent and Trademark Office, Space Environment Laboratory, STAT-USA (formerly Office of Business Analysis), and the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration.

Then there's all the money doled out to private lobbying groups, the major purposes of which are to lobby for even more of your money. Republicans suggest cutting spending for the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, and they are accused of trying to poison the air and water. However, in addition to enforcing environmental laws, the EPA dispenses $100 million yearly to private environmental groups:
World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Fund, Nature Conservancy, Friends of the Earth, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Fund, and the Nature Conservancy.

The EPA also gives more money (by some estimates anywhere from $40 billion to $200 billion yearly) to other non-profit lobbying groups whose connection to "saving the planet" can generously be described as tenuous at best:
AFL-CIO, Teamsters Union, United Auto Workers Union, Service Employees International Union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Save America's Families Coalition, Catholic Charities, AARP, ABA, National Council of Senior Citizens, National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, Planned Parenthood, and ACORN, to name a few.

Then there's the Department of Health and Human Services. Republicans who suggest cutting HHS spending are accused of trying to take away your grandmother's health care. But what about the millions given to such groups as:
Laborers AGC Education Fund, United Brotherhood of Carpenters, International Chemical Workers Union, International Union of Operating Engineers, Teamsters, International Association of Fire fighters, United Auto Workers, Service Employees International Union, AARP, AMA, ABA, National Bar Association, U.S. Departments of Commerce and Education (note: one government agency funding another, which makes killing this intertwined monster so difficult), Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, National Association of State Units on Aging, National Academy of Sciences, National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, National Citizens Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, National Association of Nutrition Agencies, National Caucus and Center on Black Aged, Three Feathers Associates, American Public Welfare Association, Pension Rights Center, Association Nacional Pro Personas Mayoress, Washington Business Group on Health, National Hispanic Council on Aging, National Council of Negro Women, Andrus Gerontology Center, Center for Social Gerontology, Community Transportation Association, Families USA Foundation, National Council on Aging, National Indian Council on Aging, National Pacific/Asian Resource Center, Child Welfare League of America, National Senior Citizens Law Center, Legal Services for the Elderly, Association for Gerontology and Human Services, National Consumer Law Center, National Title VI Directors Association, Alliance for Aging, American Society on Aging, American Institute of Architects, Easter Seal Society for Disabled Children, Legal Services of Northern California, Older Womens League, Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene, Mental Health Law Project, National Clearinghouse for Legal Services, Housing Counseling Services, Legal Assistance for Seniors, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, National Senior Citizens Education and Research Center, Catholic Charities, National Committee for the Prevention of Alcoholism, and the Gerontological Society of America.

And the Department of Agriculture, which administers the school lunch program, among other projects. Republicans who suggest cutting Agriculture Department spending are accused of trying to starve little children. Never mentioned are the millions spent on:
U.S. Meat Export Federation, Cotton Council International, USA Poultry and Egg Export Council, Wine Institute, Southern U.S. Trade Association, East U.S. Agricultural and Food Export, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Western U.S. Agricultural Trade Association, Florida Department of Citrus, USA Rice Council, U.S. Feed Grains Council, California Walnut Commission, Almond Board of California, California Table Grape Commission, California Prune Board, U.S. Mink Export Development Council, California Pistachio Commission, Pet Food Institute, California Cling Peach/Pacific Coast Cannery, California Tree Fruit Agreement, National Peanut Council, USA Fresh Sweet Cherry Promotion, National Dry Bean Council, National Sunflower Association, California Strawberry Commission, Northwest Wine Promotion Coalition, USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council, California Avocado Commission, New York Wine and Grape Foundation, Catfish Institute, International Apple Institute, Asparagus USA, Ginseng Board of Wisconsin, National Honey Board, Pillsbury Company, Campbell Soup Company, and Del Monte Foods.

Who's doing all this spending? The latest National Taxpayers Union rankings show that of the top 191 big spenders in the House, all but one (Smith of Texas, # 130) are democrats. This includes Sanders (I-VT) at # 25. Ronald Coleman (D-TX) leads the pack as the biggest spender in the House. In the Senate, 46 of the top 47 big spenders are democrats (# 27 is Cohen of Maine), with Paul Wellstone (D-MN) in the # 1 spot as top Senate spender.

Are you outraged yet?

The above article is the property of Kim Weissman, and is reprinted with his permission.

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