Congress Could Easily Save Billions

02/22/2011 12:09 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Diane Dimond Television journalist, author, syndicated columnist

There are billions of American taxpayer dollars wasted every year in criminal fraud and abuse cases. In this era of austerity why doesn't Congress focus on that?

The president has now put forth his $3.73 trillion budget with its recommended deep spending cuts. And, the other politicians in Washington -- those who represent us on Capitol Hill -- have begun the traditional partisan bickering over what is acceptable and what is not. Many go at this monumentally important task focused on making the other party look irresponsible instead of pinpointing which cuts would be best to get our country back on a firm fiscal track.

Some wring their hands and moan that one proposed cut or another is "just a drop in the bucket." They ignore the fact that lots of drops are needed to fill up a bucket.

At last count there were about 400 amendments offered to "fix" the President's budget. Some are partisan in nature, many others seek to try to reinstate money Mr. Obama wants to slash yet they offer no alternative ideas to save money. Even fellow democrats have criticized the president's proposed cuts, one Congressman calling his plan "reckless, thoughtless and heartless." No member of Congress wants to sign on to a sacrifice that will anger their voters back home.

Well, here's an idea to save billions of federal dollars: Let's eliminate the criminal fraud, waste and abuse that is rampant in federal programs. Ramp up prosecutions and get some of our money back!

Nearly lost in all the Washington budget talk was a just-released report from the Government Accountability Office which outlined billions -- yes, billions of dollars -- of savings that could be realized if only legislators would focus on them. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro says his G.A.O. team has come up with a "high risk list (that) presents 30 areas ripe for Congress and President Obama to take action."

Example: Perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars more would flow into federal coffers if only we closed the gap between taxes owed and taxes paid. Dodaro says each year that typically about 84 percent of federal taxes are paid voluntarily and on time and the IRS's most recent estimate put the resulting net gap at $290 billion.

Example: Last fiscal year Medicare estimated it improperly paid out $48 billion and that did not include what might have fraudulently gone out through its prescription drug benefits program. The federal share of Medicaid's improper payments last year was estimated to be 22.5 billion.

Example: The Pentagon has been slated to get a 3 billion dollar jet engine it says it doesn't need or want. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called it a "wasteful boondoggle." But powerful members of congress have kept the program alive to save jobs back home. A recent House vote against the idea may finally doom it later this year.

Those are just three examples with an estimated loss to American taxpayers of an estimated 363 billion dollars! Anyone out there think it might be worthwhile to try to get back some of our money? Yeah, me too.

Our elected officials at the U.S. Capitol should realize their ineffectiveness has been duly noted. States have picked up the mantle of leadership where the federal government has failed. They will continue to do so, passing their own laws and perhaps in the process setting up costly legal confrontations with the federal branch.

Most recently it was the congressional failure to grapple with our massive immigration problem. Arizona led the way as states began to devise their own policies and laws of immigration containment. Last July the Obama administration sued Arizona, earlier this month Arizona countersued. What a mess! If only Congress could have risen to the occasion and done something concrete about the problem.

The next battle ground seems to be the idea -- currently under consideration in at least 16 states desperate to save money -- that to curb fraudulent use of public assistance money recipients will have to undergo mandatory drug testing. Fed up with reports that unemployment checks, food stamps and cash assistance payments were being traded in for liquor, drugs or gambling instead of going to support hungry children, states feel compelled to do something.

The last time a state tried this it was the late 90's when Michigan became the first to pass a mandatory welfare drug testing bill. Even before it went into effect a federal appellate judge struck it down as an unconstitutional, illegal search.

Mark my words, as soon as New Mexico, Missouri, Florida, Nebraska, Kentucky or any other of the other states considering a drug testing law pass one, it will be challenged in federal court. Another mess created, in part, by a Congress that can't get it fiscal act together.

As a country we need to face the fact that we're broke. We must cut federal spending. The cuts will be deep and they will hurt. Members of Congress need to bite the bullet for the good of the country even if it harms some of the folks back home. Only then will the states feel a bit of relief they so desperately need in their fight back to fiscal sanity.

In other words: Man up, Congress! (and Mr. President) Do what must be done.

Diane Dimond may be reached through her website at Her latest book is "Cirque Du Salahi" available at