Critics Blame 'Empire' Mentality for Gov't Waste

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WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are struggling to reach a deal to finance the government through the end of September and avoid a shutdown by Friday.

Between the $60 billion in spending cuts passed by House Republicans and the $10 billion proposed by Democrats, trying to find some place in the middle has left Congress without a budget for the fiscal year.

Meanwhile, Tea Party supporters want Washington to cut even more. Political observers say despite posturing from both parties, it's entirely possible.

"It makes you wonder why they're having such difficulty even coming up with reductions in the order of $61billion when you got a GAO (Government Accounting Office) report saying here's a hundred billion dollars just in program duplications," said Ernest Istook, a fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

"That's some low hanging fruit as I look at it," he added.

The report, released last month, identifies billions of dollars in savings - potentially as much as $100 billion to $200 billion.
    
The GAO says redundant federal programs - from education to public assistance to transportation - lead to confusion, fragmentation, higher administrative costs and ultimately ineffectiveness.

"There are 100 programs for surface transportation at the Department of Transportation, but yet everyone talks about our failing infrastructure," said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.

Some of the examples are difficult to believe -- like why it takes 15 different agencies to administer over 30 related food laws, or why seven agencies spend nearly $3 billion for 20 different homeless programs.
    
There is also the irony of the federal government offering about 60 financial literacy programs when it has a debt more than $14 trillion.

Istook, a former Republican congressman, knows firsthand the reason behind the overlap. He blames the situation on Congress, its many committees, and the power grab created by multiple government agencies. Istook likens the situation to building an empire.

"There's tons of overlapping things because everybody wants to do things their own way," and no one wants to cede any power, Istook said.

"The problem is 'I have jurisdiction here, so they need to make changes over there,'" Istook explained.

The saying "money talks" is a reality on Capitol Hill, especially with the current focus on government spending.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has teamed up with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to instruct committee chairmen to look into the GAO report's recommended savings.

Tuesday's House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing was among the first to examine the report. Bills based on the findings have already been filed in Senate.
    
At the moment, it appears there's fresh momentum to get something done. However, some long-time observers of Washington have their doubts that anything will really change since Congress and government agencies are so used to creating new programs and bureaucracies.

"The solution in Washington is not to consolidate and improve," Schatz said. "The solution is to create, and in doing so, they continue to fund old programs that don't work."

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