Budget Cuts and Cherry Blossoms

Well, I’m heading Inside the Beltway for a few days. And I figured that since I had to go to DC at some point late March or early April anyway, this was as good a time as any. The federal government appears still to be operating. The cherry blossoms cling to the trees. And the Cleveland Indians are still in first place.

Play ball.

By this time next week, things could change. The federal government — since the folks in Congress can’t agree on a 2011 budget let alone spending for 2012 — could be closed for business in early April. Here’s from the NYT, “Budget Impasse Increases Risk of U.S. Shutdown“:

With time running short and budget negotiations this week having reached an angry impasse, Congressional leaders are growing increasingly pessimistic about reaching a bipartisan deal that would avert a government shutdown in early April.

Senior Democratic officials involved in high-level efforts to bring House Republicans, Senate Democrats and the White House to a budget agreement said that while some progress had been made toward an accord on an overall level of spending cuts, the parties remained divided on the final figure and had to resolve the fate of ideologically charged policy provisions demanded by House conservatives.

Some senior Republicans, after relying on House Democrats to help pass the most recent short-term measure, are also uneasy about having to team up with Democrats again to pass any compromise that dips too far below the $61 billion in spending reductions endorsed by the House for the current fiscal year. Senate Democrats want to wring some of the savings out of mandatory spending programs like Medicare, an approach Republicans are resisting.

Aides said that even if myriad outstanding issues were resolved and an agreement struck late next week after lawmakers returned, it would be a challenge to write the legislation and move it through Congress before the current financing bill expires on April 8.

Well, good luck to those in Congress who have dithered over this for a year or more now. And I know that eventually the budget-cutting axe will hover over the big three — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  Wow. Grandma won’t have the money to pay for gas to drive for her appointment with the death panel. Oops. I digress.

Sorry. I’m back. As our elected officials opine and seek the TV Talking Head high ground on budget and spending issues in the days ahead, consider a recent report from the Government Accountability Office. Here’s from WaPo, “Government overlap costs taxpayers billions, GAO reports“:

You think the government redundancies President Obama recently griped about were bad? Federal auditors found plenty more.

During his State of the Union address, Obama noted that 12 federal agencies or offices deal with international trade and at least two regulate salmon. Top administration officials are planning to revamp how the government handles trade issues — and may later turn to other programs.

They’ll have plenty to choose from, according to a Government Accountability Officereport released Tuesday. The U.S. government has more than 100 programs dealing with surface transportation issues, 82 monitoring teacher quality, 80 for economic development, 47 for job training, 20 offices or programs devoted to homelessness and 17 different grant programs for disaster preparedness. Another 15 agencies or offices handle food safety, and five are working to ensure the federal government uses less gasoline.

“Reducing or eliminating duplication, overlap, or fragmentation could potentially save billions of taxpayer dollars annually and help agencies provide more efficient and effective services,” the GAO said. Merging or terminating operations as recommended in the report could save up to several billion dollars.

The study, mandated last year as part of legislation raising the federal debt limit, is likely to be cited by lawmakers pushing for deeper spending cuts as part of ongoing budget negotiations. Several congressional offices received advanced copies of the report on Monday; The Washington Post obtained a written summary from congressional aides.

“This report will make us look like jackasses,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who read the report, told reporters Monday. He sponsored the amendment requiring the report’s publication.

An outspoken critic of government waste, Coburn has said that Congress and the executive branch are equally to blame for failing to control spending. Last Halloween, his office published a report concluding that the federal government has paid nearly $1 billion to at least 250,000 dead people since 2000.

Wow. Did Sen. Coburn really say “this report will make us look like jackasses”? Most likely. Although admittedly, people living in most any part of the country other than DC don’t need a GAO report to reach that conclusion. Just sayin’.

So while I’m Inside the Beltway I’ll keep a close eye on the jackasses — and the cherry blossoms, which will most likely vanish at about the same time as the federal government is set to close its doors.

I’ll have to leave the Cleveland Indians to others. Some problems are too big to solve.

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