Jan 21 2010
With other issues dominating the news, Congress is quietly working a plan to raise the federal debt ceiling by nearly two trillion dollars, allowing our national debt to rise above $14 trillion.
In Washington, raising the "debt ceiling" has become a fairly routine procedure that allows the federal government to continue to spend far beyond its means. For you and me, and the generations of taxpayers yet to come, it means a growing and nearly unbearable financial burden that threatens our way of life.
The upcoming vote to raise the debt ceiling is the clearest sign yet that Congress truly is not hearing the call from the American people. It signals that Congress is incapable of making priorities, of eliminating wasteful and fraudulent spending, and of ending its out-of control spending habits.
In the midst of the largest deficits in our history, Congress has recently completed appropriations bills for 2010 that increase federal spending across the board by an average of 12 percent.
You may have missed it, but this will actually be the second time in less than a month that Congress will have raised its borrowing limits. On Christmas Eve, as most Oklahomans were dealing with a historic blizzard, the United States Senate voted to raise the debt ceiling by $290 billion.
Sadly, in just a matter of weeks, that new limit is already insufficient.
Let me put this all in perspective:
• The debt limit increase will rank as the largest in American history, shattering the previous record nearly twice over.
• The federal deficit for 2009 surpasses our entire federal budget spending for 1999 by $200 billion.
• The deficit for 2009 is nearly three times our previous record for federal budget deficits.
• Our national debt in 2009 increased by a rate of $4 billion a day. That means every 1.5 days, the federal government is running a deficit equal to the entire annual budget of the State of Oklahoma.
• The national debt, not including obligations to the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, now stands at $39,000 per man, woman, and child.
• Currently, Congress borrows 43 cents for every dollar it spends.
There is a better way.
As a candidate for president in 2008, Barack Obama pledged to "spend taxpayer money wisely," and specifically to "eliminate wasteful redundancy," stating that "too often, federal departments take on functions or services that are already being done or could be done elsewhere within the federal government more effectively. The result is unnecessary redundancy and the inability of the government to benefit from economies of scale and integrated, streamlined operations."
Yet, for over a year, Congress and the President have been unwilling to consider the elimination of wasteful, duplicative spending.
It is not that hard to find. Over the past few weeks, my office has identified over 600 examples of costly duplication throughout the federal government. For instance:
• There are at least 21 different federal obesity programs located at multiple agencies.
• There are over a dozen federal agencies that maintain independent programs to research and monitor the impact of invasive species, with four independent commissions also added to the mix.
• The federal government maintains 69 programs for early childhood education, over 109 federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) federal programs, and at least 14 programs aimed at Americans studying abroad.
And as the debate to raise the debt ceiling occurs over the next several days, I intend to force the Senate to consider the consolidation of many of these programs.
I will offer an amendment to consolidate nearly 640 overlapping federal programs. These greater efficiencies will save taxpayers an estimated $120 billion.
Further my amendment will require government auditors to routinely scour federal agencies to identify overlapping programs. As hard as it is to believe, no one is performing this task currently.
Also, my amendment will require agencies to return unobligated funds that have been held for more than two years. At the end of the 2009 fiscal year, federal agencies sat on more than $650 billion in unobligated funds. Conservatively, this part of my amendment will save $100 billion.
Finally, I will also rescind the $245 million increase that Congress granted itself for its own internal operations, which included a $72,000 earmark for Congressional leadership staff to purchase new "cell phones and mobile data devices."
For more information on this debate, agency spending, and my amendment, please visit my website at: http://coburn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=RightNow.Home&ContentRecord_id=4c7c8bcd-802a-23ad-406b-e0bfa401a0f8
The confidence of the American people in their Congress will never be restored until Members of Congress realize that leadership requires courage and sacrifice. Congress has a responsibility to eliminate wasteful and duplicative spending before it ever asks you and your children to assume still greater debt on its behalf.
Tom A. Coburn, MD