I'm sure you've head about the lavish government conference in Las Vegas that featured a clown and a mind reader. The conference cost over $800,000, far exceeding its budget. The Government Services Administration employee who planned it all invoked his Fifth Amendment rights to avoid testifying before Congress because he is likely to face criminal charges for his actions.
Sadly, government waste is nothing new and the GSA isn't the only organization finding absurd ways to spend the public's money. This week, the National Endowment for the Arts announced 928 grants totaling more than $77 million.
Included in these grants was one for Spelman College giving them $100,000 for a video game. According to the announcement the game, "focuses on a young female superhero sent to Earth to save her own planet from devastation because of climate change." There was another $40,000 for the University of Southern California to create a game based on the works of Henry David Thoreau.
Over at the National Institutes of Health, more than $5 million has been spent on an HIV prevention website that features sexually explicit images and crude games. These features are supposed to attract subjects' attention so that the website can deliver safe sex messages. I don't think many Americans would agree that the government should be using pornography to spread public health messages.
This all comes at a time when we are taking on tremendous amounts of debt. Once again, the deficit will total more than $1 trillion this year. For every dollar in spending, we borrow around 40 cents, much of it from foreign nations. That means that China is paying for a piece of that NEA video game.
This week, the Energy and Commerce Committee considered legislation to reduce spending under our jurisdiction by $114 billion over the next ten years. This effort was undertaken as part of a larger House Republican package of spending reductions included in the fiscal year 2013 budget. All told, various committees need to come up with savings of $261.5 billion over ten years.
In the Committee, we took some of the savings from a Health and Human Services Department slush fund created by the President's health care law. At the time of the law's signing, $15 billion was allocated for "prevention and public health." There were no more detailed instructions on how the money was supposed to be spent, and the Secretary of HHS has sole discretion on all disbursements.
Democrats on the committee objected to the cuts saying we should allow some of the funds to go breast cancer or cervical screenings. Unfortunately, in two years not one penny of this fund has been used on such important services. However, some of the money was spent on a program to spay and neuter pets in Tennessee.
Frankly, we have dozens of programs that cover important services for women. We don't need a slush fund that lacks any Congressional oversight to accomplish these important goals.
Unfortunately, eliminating all the waste I've mentioned in this article so far wouldn't balance the budget. To do that, we have to restructure and save important programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
This week, the trustees for Medicare and for Social Security both released their annual reports on the fiscal health of the two programs. Medicare is in bad shape, with the trust fund expected to be empty by 2024. Social Security is only slightly better and getting worse.
Last year, the trustees reported that Social Security would be unable to provide full benefits starting in 2036. This year's report now says that the program will face funding shortages starting in 2033. In just one year's time, we've lost another three year's of Social Security solvency.
Right now, Democrats and Republicans deeply disagree about the best way to fix these programs. Big reforms might not happen this year, but maybe we can all agree that we shouldn't be paying for video games, party clowns, and sexually suggestive websites. There are things that only the government can do--defend our borders, maintain our roads--and in a time of high deficits, that is what we should be focused on.