2011-07-07 / Opinions

Money must be saved every step of the way

Georgia Tenth District

Every time a piece of legislation crosses my desk, I apply the same four-way test. The test reads: Is it Constitutional? Is it morally right? Is it something we need? Can we afford it? Only after I am confident a bill merits a “yes” to each of these questions do I sign on in support. Now that we have reached the 14.3 trillion dollar debt ceiling and our economy remains anemic for its 28th straight month, the final question, “can we afford it?” warrants even deeper scrutiny of any proposed spending.

The simple, hard truth is that our nation teeters on the edge of a fiscal calamity. For decades, politicians have gravitated towards the idea that the federal government should do everything for everybody. Now, we’re reaping the consequences with a deep economic downturn and an increasingly outrageous annual deficit.

During the Agriculture appropriations process, I introduced 11 amendments to cut spending, which totaled more than 2 billion dollars in cuts out of the overall 17.25 billion dollar cost of the bill. Much of what I proposed to cut came from the WIC auxiliary welfare program and foreign food aid. Cutting down any welfare program bears a serious stigma. Everyone wants to help the impoverished or those lacking food, and so very few want to be associated with decreasing funding to any such program, lest they come across as mean-spirited.

That, however, sacrifices reality for the sake of appearances. My first major cut in the bill, in foreign food assistance, was to address several serious issues within the program.

Chris Barrett, Cornell University Economist once said, “American food aid was started to try to promote trade, to dump surpluses and to help the maritime industry… it’s not just about feeding the hungry. It’s not even primarily about feeding the hungry. That is just the way it’s sold.” He went on to say 50 cents of every dollar the government spends on food aid isn’t spent on food -- instead, the money is spent on shipping, processing and other costs. Rather than focusing on the flawed, band-aid solution of direct aid, America should focus its efforts on encouraging developing countries to adopt policies conducive to economic growth and development.

The WIC program also has many fundamental issues. First and foremost, the idea that you can improve any section of the population by simply throwing money at it is deeply flawed. The so-called War on Poverty has resulted in the expenditure of 16 trillion dollars, yet the overall poverty rate has hardly moved. Whereas churches and local communities often very effectively deliver charitable services and assistance to the poor, broad-based solutions are mired in bureaucracy and inefficiency, and seemingly designed to hold a section of the population in limbo rather than helping them grow out of poverty. As just one example of the bureaucracy involved, the federal government spent more than $62.5 billion on 18 domestic food and nutrition assistance programs in fiscal year 2008. Why are these programs not streamlined and consolidated?

Another key consideration to cutting the WIC program concerns oversight and accountability. Out of every 10 dollars we spend, 6 come from the wallets of hardworking Americans, and 4 are borrowed – often from those jostling to overtake us as an economic force. With that in mind, we absolutely must ensure that when we do allocate funds, they are spent to the purpose specified and not taken through fraud and abuse. A recent report in Georgia has exposed a number of very troubling practices within the WIC program. Most alarming is that people were able to apply for benefits without identification, or with expired or foreign ID.

I had hoped that a 10 percent reduction in the WIC program would not only save us from spending hundreds of millions of dollars we don’t have, but would also fire a shot into the air. The administrators of any program should never feel so untouchable that they see no need to check if our tax dollars are being given to illegal aliens or those who are outside of the means test.

Attacking the budget deficit in exclusively a big picture, bottom line manner will only ensure that a thousand examples of waste, fraud, and abuse slip through our fingers at the lower levels. That is why I have offered these amendments to reduce funding to specific programs rather than a simple broad reduction. With a multitude of targeted cuts, we can weed out programs that are redundant, or would be more rightly done at the state and local levels or possibly even in the private sector.

(Rep. Paul C. Broun, M.D. represents Georgia’s 10th Congressional District.)

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