Commentary: A solution to the fiscal cliff: The Grace Report
Submitted by Mike Ligon
If bandwagon broadcasters had focused on the actual cause of our national financial fiasco — fraud, waste and abuse — rather than the beltway spin of a “fiscal cliff,” sequestration need not have happened.
As an alarmist sound bite fiscal cliff conjures up a precipitous “Thelma-and-Louise” plunge into the Grand Canyon. In reality we’re not approaching a cliff at all.
“Boiling lobster crisis!” just doesn’t have the buzzword pizzazz as “cliff.” Watching a live lobster slowly die in a boiling pot of water is considered a kinder, gentler way to kill the crustacean.
I have to be careful here because I don’t want to give ObamaCare “death boards” ideas.
Think of Congress as the chef, wasteful spending as the water and taxpayers as the lobster. Congress has been slow-boiling taxpayers through special interest pork-barreling for more than 50 years. American “lobsters” continue asking for hotter water by re-electing the chefs. The decision point for the American public — the lobsters — was to refuse to be put in the pot in the first place. Screaming now is an exercise in futility.
We actually hit the bottom of the cliff in 2000.
• The Health and Human Services Department has routinely paid out Social Security benefits to some 8,000 dead people.
• The “off-budget” federal financing bank hides government spending by offering federal agencies a “back door” to the Treasury. What is released to the public is the “on budget” deficit. The actual federal debt is more than double.
• The book Fat City describes 963 federal programs that give money away for nonessential purposes at taxpayers’ expense.
• By making our national defense efficient, we can eliminate at least $100 billion in military waste over three years without costing a single weapons program, dismantling our national defense and without foregoing new weapons systems.
• 42.4 percent of those receiving poverty benefits had total incomes which were 150 percent above the poverty level.
• Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Food and Drug Administration processed 33,000 requests at a cost of $4.5 million. The FDA collected only $231. Eighty percent of the requests were from pharmaceutical companies’ marketing departments researching their competitor … sound familiar?
Congress isn’t ignorant of fiscal solutions — they are ignoring them. In 1984, President Reagan asked registered Democrat, J. Peter Grace, to gather a panel of successful business men to voluntarily identify wasteful government spending. The President’s Private Sector Survey on Cost Control recommended 2,478 ways to cut wasteful spending in 1984.
“The report claimed that if its recommendations were followed, $424 billion could be saved in three years, rising to $1.9 trillion per year by the year 2000. It estimated that the national debt without these reforms, would rise to $13 trillion by the year 2000, while with the reforms they projected it would rise to only $2.5 trillion. Congress ignored the commission’s report. As a result, the debt reached $5.8 trillion (three times the estimate) in the year 2000.
The 1984 report said that one third of all income taxes are consumed by waste and inefficiency in the federal government, and another one-third escapes collection owing to the underground economy.
“With two thirds of everyone’s personal income taxes wasted or not collected, 100 percent of what is collected is absorbed solely by interest on the federal debt and by federal government contributions to transfer payments. In other words, all individual income tax revenues are gone before one nickel is spent on the services taxpayers expect from their government.”
The results were published in Burning Money: The Waste of Your Tax Dollars. Congress acted on 646 recommendations. What is the status of the other 1,842 recommendations? The Grace Commission’s report also warned ominously, “… without eliminating wasteful government spending, the national debt by the year 2000 would jeopardize America’s freedoms and enslave our children with insurmountable debt.” This from a non-partisan, volunteer panel chaired by a Democrat. Like a former Treasury Secretary told presidential candidate Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign: “It’s all an illusion now. There has been nothing backing the dollar for 10 years.”
Congress can still cut hundreds of billions from wasteful government spending without affecting jobs or benefits — certainly without furloughing anyone. Instead Congress is eating the goose that lays the golden egg. Rather than abdicate constitutional budgetary authority to the president, the House of Representatives should grant the Inspector General’s Office criminal prosecuting authority and fund it sufficiently to ferret out fraud, waste and abuse. They could start with the Grace Commission Report.
In 1984 one congressman replied to the inability of Congress to cut wasteful spending thus: “We have confessed to an already doubting nation that we are ruled by political cowardice rather than economic courage.”
The more things change the more they remain the same.
MIKE LIGONis a Sierra Vista resident since 1994, a former Marine, who joined the U.S. Army and served in Special Forces and retired after 18 years.
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