One of the reasons why Government spending is so hard to cut is because people do actually rely on it for one reason or another. Whether it occurs through transfer payments (i.e. benefits) or funding someone’s job, Government spending does actually make a difference in people’s lives.
One can see this in the implementation of the sequester. I recently had the honor and privilege of working in a federal public defender’s office. Those offices are getting hosed right now under the sequester. In fact, many Federal Defender offices are getting hit up to six times harder than their prosecution counterparts. The head of one Ohio Federal Defender’s Office fired himself to save his staff. This is happening in Federal Defender’s offices around the country, including the Boston office that will be representing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
These cuts are raising Sixth Amendment Gideon issues, as federal public defense attorneys now have even less time to work on their client’s cases. While case loads in the federal system are not as bad as they are in the state system, these cuts nonetheless damage the quality of representation that federal criminal defendants receive. In other words, calls go unanswered, less motions get filed, and the motions that are filed contain less legal arguments, Such omissions may make the difference between winning or losing a client’s case. In federal court, that usually means they end up in prison for a long time, as Congress still loves their mandatory minimums, United States v. Booker notwithstanding.
Elsewhere, there’s controversy over the Chained CPI proposal for Social Security. According to Robert G. Romasco, President of the AARP, it would result in substantial cuts for beneficiaries:
Under a chained CPI, older veterans would be hurt twice, as both Social Security and veterans’ benefits would be cut. So much for the administration’s claim to protect the vulnerable. Permanently disabled veterans who started receiving disability benefits from the Veterans Administration at age 30 would see their benefits cut by more than $1,400 a year at age 45, $2,300 at age 55, and $3,200 a year at age 65.
Of course, these cuts are kind of the point when you’re cutting Government spending. The largest parts of the federal budget are military spending, social security, and healthcare spending. There’s no magic button we can press to cut spending in these places without hurting someone. Cutting defense spending, even by only a few million dollars, means a decent number of people are out of a job. Cutting Social Security benefits means people on fixed incomes have to make do with less.
This isn’t to say there isn’t genuine “waste” in Government. A recent example is the Federal Government spending $890,000 in bank fees for empty bank accounts. Years back, the Pentagon spent $100 million on unused airline tickets for which it never sought refunds. The Pentagon in particular is notorious for wasteful spending projects, such as $436 hammers, $600 toilet seats, and $7,622 coffee brewers. Or how about spending $100,000 for a 2011 workshop on interstellar space travel that included a session entitled “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?" According to the link, "the session probed how Christian theology would apply in the event of the discovery of aliens." I feel safer already.
Nonetheless, even if we got rid of much of this waste, we’d still have to make substantive cuts to make a dent in the federal budget. Even if we had a balanced approach of 50/50 spending and tax increases on a 10-year plan to reduce to the deficit back to healthy levels, it would still involve cutting a lot of people’s livelihoods. No matter where you cut from, somebody’s either losing their benefits or losing their job. and that’s why it’s so hard to cut Government spending, even if doing so is the overall right thing to do.
US Defense spending, circa 2011. Because if we ever need to face the China-Russia-UK-France-Japan-India-Saudi Arabia-Germany-Brazil-Italy-South Korea-Australia-Canada military alliance, we’ll be ready.
If you guessed 234, you’d be right:
[G]enerals and admirals aren’t the only ones who get to enjoy some of perks of being in the U.S. armed forces. Although lower-ranking service members don’t get private jets and personal chefs, U.S. taxpayers still spend billions of dollars a year to pay for luxuries that are out of reach for the ordinary American.
The Pentagon, for example, runs a staggering 234 golf courses around the world, at a cost that is undisclosed.
Laura Gottesdiener notes that assessing the total cost of these golf courses is difficult because some of them are left uncounted, since courses in controversial areas like Guantanamo Bay and Baghdad are often left off the list. There is some data, however:
According to journalist Nick Turse, “The U.S. Army paid $71,614 [in 2004] to the Arizona Golf Resort — located in sunny Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,… The resort actually boasts an entire entertainment complex, complete with a water-slide-enhanced megapool, gym, bowling alley, horse stables, roller hockey rink, arcade, amphitheater, restaurant, and even a cappuccino bar — not to mention the golf course and a driving range.”
And then there’s our golf course in Korea:
DoD’s Sungnam golf course in the Republic of Korea, meanwhile, is reportedly valued at $26 million.
This all comes on the heels of a report issued by Senator Tom Coburn’s office detailing the wasteful spending in DHS’s Urban Area Security Initiative. One of my favorites:
Keene, New Hampshire, with a population just over 23,000 and a police force of 40, set aside UASI funds to buy a BearCat armored vehicle. Despite reporting only a single homicide in the prior two years, the City of Keene told DHS the vehicle was needed to patrol events like its annual pumpkin festival.
This is a Bearcat armored vehicle (Photo via David Icke):
This is the Keene pumpkin festival (photo via Meghan Pierce):
Clearly, this is an event that requires paramilitary vehicles to achieve adequate security. Perhaps if they’re lucky, they’ll be able to play golf on a Pentagon-sponsored golf course once they’re done. One can dream, anyway.
And then there are the true costs of war.
This is absolutely crazy. Never let them tell you these wars aren’t costly.
And that’s purely monetary terms. Doesn’t even get into the very real cost of human lives…
LTMC: I’m familiar with these numbers. But what should offend many people is the relative inexpensiveness of equipping one U.S. soldier versus the cost of an aircraft carrier. The U.S. currently has 11 active carrier fleets. Do you know how many China has? One, and it’s an old Russian model. The U.S. has more total navy craft tonnage in service than the next 13 largest navies in the world…combined. Meanwhile, those F-22’s? They were never used in Iraq or Afghanistan. Not even once.
This is the reason why Rumsfeld’s blithe retort to a National Guardsman in 2004 that “you go to war with the army you have” was so infuriating. For the cost of a few less F-22’s, we could have more than adequately equipped the soldiers currently serving overseas. Instead, our troops end up having to buy their own kevlar vests.
This chart demonstrates how the Cold War mentality still haunts us today. Our obsession with some fantasy epic war with China and Russia has so tainted our foreign policy that the Pentagon’s priorities are completely ass backwards. Why spend money properly equipping our troops when we could hand Lockheed martin another check for $77 billion dollars? You know, just in case we have to maintain air superiority in Stalingrad and Beijing…at the same time.
Just a thought, since Israel is surrounded by hostile countries, while the United States is surrounded by fish.
— "Abolish The DHS," Gene Healy, via Radley Balko
— Mike Lofgren, former GOP staffer.
The Military Industrial Complex soldiers on. They beat out the Chinese military and, perhaps more disturbingly, Wal-Mart.
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