By Rep. Tim Griffin
Arkansas has a proud military history. Little Rock Air Force Base (LRAFB), Camp Robinson, Pine Bluff Arsenal, and the servicemembers and civilians who serve there play an integral part in our state's economy and culture and are crucial to our nation's military readiness. The men, women and families associated with these installations are hardworking, patriotic Americans who deserve our respect and support.
Unfortunately, the Obama Administration is letting them down. Under the pretense of budget cuts, thousands of defense workers have been furloughed, forcing families to cope with smaller paychecks. I've talked with many of them personally, including when I recently visited Camp Robinson and LRAFB and heard from constituents who work at Pine Bluff Arsenal. They don't understand why the federal government seems to have plenty of money to waste on frivolous things but not enough to pay them for a full workweek, and I agree -- I'm frustrated, too.
Last month, the U.S. House passed the Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 2397) with my support to give the Pentagon more budget flexibility and protect from furloughs dual-status military technicians and other Defense employees. This bill is sitting in the U.S. Senate. I've also cosponsored a bill to exempt National Guard military technicians from furloughs (H.R. 1014), and I've sent letters to the Obama Administration urging them to reconsider their furlough decisions. The recent reduction to six days was welcome news, but that's still six too many.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects the federal government will rake in record tax revenue this year: $2.8 trillion. It will spend much more than that -- $3.455 trillion -- even after "sequestration," the $85 billion reduction in federal spending that represents less than three percent of the entire budget.
Sequestration was the President's idea, and I've fought to replace it with sensible, targeted savings. There are smarter ways to reform spending and reduce the deficit. Last year, House Republicans passed three bills aimed at enabling the Department of Defense to avoid furloughs entirely: H.R. 5652 on May 10, H.R. 6365 on September 13 and H.R. 6684 on December 20. President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid ignored our replacement bills because they didn't raise taxes.
This "my way or the highway" approach is part of their commitment to opposing reform and protecting the status quo. The Obama Administration refuses to cut waste, choosing instead to hurt workers.
A leaked internal email sent by Defense Department officials in June shows the federal government has enough money but spends it unwisely: "Our available funding balances remain large in all appropriations -- too large to spend on just [unfunded requirements]," they wrote.
This email confirms what a high-ranking general recently told me. "You won't hear this publicly," he said, "but we have more money than we can spend."
He wasn't joking. Reports of ridiculous federal spending aren't hard to find -- here's a sample:
"[T]he Army ordered its second batch of televisions for the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay, an expense totaling more than $80,000 in the last two months," CNS News reported July 17.
In Afghanistan, "The U.S. military has erected a 64,000-square-foot headquarters .at a cost of $34 million. But the military has no plans to ever use it," The Washington Post reported July 9.
"The State Department spent over $630,000 to increase Facebook "likes,'" the Washington Examiner reported July 2.
"[T]he [Internal Revenue Service] spent about $49 million on conferences between 2010 and 2012," Politico reported June 4. About $60,000 was spent producing videos parodying "Star Trek" and "Gilligan's Island."
"From 2009 to 2013, the U.S. government has spent $1,188,382 on puppetry-related expenses," Breitbart News reported March 27.
In 2010, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) spent $181,406 to study how cocaine enhances the sex drive of Japanese quail.
These examples alone account for many times the "savings" generated by furloughing Arkansans. It's unacceptable for the Obama Administration to protect wasteful spending like this while putting the burden of any relatively small budget reduction onto families, children and the military.
The evidence shows, however, that it's a deliberate attempt to make sequestration painful and score political points. In March, when an Agriculture Department official asked his superiors if reductions could be implemented in a less traumatic way, they told him to "make sure you are not contradicting what we said the impact would be." This is political, not practical. Who really believes the Transportation Department wastes nothing in its vast $70 billion budget and, among its 55,000 employees, could only cut air traffic controllers?
Americans deserve better than "government by freakout," as the Obama Administration's tactic has been called. The furloughs leaving folks with lighter wallets are unnecessary, and President Obama should do the right thing and end them immediately. We can trim wasteful spending first.
Ultimately, this debate is about the best way to fix our economy and decades of Washington overspending. Prosperity can't be manufactured by a government assembly line, but President Obama still puts faith in top-down stimulus programs that only produce one failure after another. That's an outdated approach. America is built by ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and I firmly believe the seeds of economic growth will thrive much better in the rich soil of local communities than in the dry concrete of bureaucratic Washington. Government must identify smart savings so that hardworking Americans have more of their own resources to grow our economy naturally and organically, from the bottom up.