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Tags: Government Waste

Spared by the Sequester: Catfish Inspections, $500K Hotel Stays, New U.S. Drone Complexes



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Jazz Shaw notices more spending “Spared by the Sequester”: $14 million per year for catfish inspections.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department spent $500,000 on lodging, hotel conference rooms. and other services in San Jose, Costa Rica; the cost is associated with President Obama’s May 3 visit.

Oh, and there’s a new $16.3 million “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Complex” to be built at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Despite the dire warnings, the Sequester has not yet required President Obama to look for loose change that fell behind the Oval Office couch cushions.

Tags: Drones , Sequester , Government Waste , President Obama

Obama’s Presidency Isn’t Really Focused on Governing



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From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Ultimately, the Obama Presidency Isn’t Really About Governing.

Obamacare’s implementation is a “train wreck,” in the words of retiring Montana Democratic senator Max Baucus.

The president’s gun-control proposals are rejected, because he can’t persuade red-state senators in either party that they would really be of any use in preventing gun violence.

The great news is that the Boston bombers were killed and apprehended quickly, but Boston’s ordeal left serious questions about the government’s ability to keep an eye on those deemed dangerous, and how carefully it scrutinizes those who seek to become American citizens.

Time magazine’s Joe Klein gave conservatives an “Alleluia” moment a few weeks ago. The Obama administration announced that the “exchanges” designed to help small businesses buy health insurance for their employees won’t be ready by the promised deadline. Instead of having multiple health-insurance plans, with differing prices, to offer to their employees, small businesses will be able to pick . . . one plan. Pointing to this and the inability the of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to come up with a unified electronic health-care-records system, Klein lamented, “we are now seeing weekly examples of this administration’s inability to govern.”

Klein’s dark assessment is probably driven by all of the other promises about Obamacare that have been left in the dust.

“If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” . . . except for the 7 million people who will lose their coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“Your premiums will go down . . .” except that premiums have gone up in the past years, with more hikes projected.

And let’s not forget one of then–House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s promises, that Obamacare would “create 400,000 jobs almost immediately” and eventually 4 million jobs.

Klein writes, “as a Democrat — as someone who believes in activist government — [Obama] has a vested interest in seeing that federal programs actually work efficiently. I don’t see much evidence that this is anywhere near the top of his priorities.”

At moments like this, conservatives feel an enormous temptation to snicker, “Welcome to the party, pal!” But brutally honest assessments like this one from Klein ought to be applauded on the right. One of the reasons the era of Big Government never really ended is because many of its usual fans on the left avert their eyes when it fails so badly. You can’t address a problem if you refuse to see a problem.

Unfortunately, there’s not much indication that Obama sees the problems and even less indication he wants to see them. The bold promise and the awful delivery have become the signature of this administration, extending well beyond the implementation of health care.

Elsewhere in his column, Klein writes, “faced a terrible economic crisis — and he has done well to limit the damage.”

The damage is limited . . . except for the fact that more Americans are living in poverty than when Obama took office. And our workforce participation rate is now the lowest since 1979. And the number of Americans on food stamps is at an all-time high. And the nearly 5 million long-term unemployed have defined life since autumn 2008 as an era of barely scraping by, month after month, year after year..

Of course, the “shovel-ready jobs” of the stimulus didn’t really live up to the promises, as Obama himself admitted.

And the web site meant to detail how every dime of stimulus spending ended up full of bad data and nonexistent congressional districts.

And as of June 2012, three and a half years after the stimulus passed, nearly $8 billion was still waiting to be awarded or sitting in agency accounts.

And the entire green-jobs initiative clearly hasn’t quite lived up to the hype, including the president’s infamous pledge that “companies like Solyndra are leading the way toward a brighter and more prosperous future.” Now another one of the administration’s high-profile loan recipients, Fisker Automotive, is contemplating bankruptcy; the company hasn’t built a car since July.

Tuesday we learned, “Taxpayer-backed funds kept flowing to electric carmaker Fisker Automotive months after the company failed to meet key production benchmarks, lawmakers said at a congressional hearing on Wednesday.”

All of these problems in the stimulus and the administration’s overall economic policies fit in a pattern, don’t they? Klein’s creeping sense that making sure “federal programs actually work efficiently” isn’t really an administration priority?

Time and again, we hear anecdotes of the president angered, befuddled, and frustrated that the policies implemented in the beginning of his presidency, with a compliant Congress, haven’t generated the results he promised. But very little seems to change, other than a bit of fuming at aides behind closed doors.

President Obama was surprised to learn, in discussions with economic adviser Christina Romer, that large-scale investment in infrastructure and clean-energy projects wouldn’t create enormous numbers of new jobs.

In a December 2010 meeting with economic advisers, he “boiled over” with frustration that his housing policies hadn’t helped struggling homeowners like he promised.

When federal program after federal program fails to generate the desired result, it’s not crazy talk to become at least a little skeptical of the latest pledges and promises and idealistic visions.

But Democrats often speak as if the Right’s skepticism of the government’s problem-solving ability is driven by some sort of abstract ideological theory. It’s not. It’s usually built upon hard experiences. Human behavior isn’t predictable, particularly their interactions with the government. Unintended consequences pile up like a car crash. The pattern is depressingly predictable: Someone in government comes up with some laudable goal, and announces some new program. After the press conference, when the cameras and microphones are away, implementing the idea proves more complicated than the press-conference announcement made it seem. Deadlines get missed. Costs turn out much higher than expected. Bureaucratic inertia begins to exert the gravitational pull of a black hole.

Perhaps it is the nature of the modern presidency for the occupant of the Oval Office to glide from photo-op to photo-op, and never spend too much time getting entangled in the messy work of actually making his policies live up to his promises. Certainly that’s the pattern for this president; even in this non-campaign year, the schedule is heavy with a campaign-style rally on gun-control initiatives here, a DCCC fundraiser there, then off to a tour of a national laboratory. He flits from issue to issue; to judge from his remarks and his schedule, the health-care issue is resolved and our health-care system’s problems are fixed. Maybe White House press secretary Jay Carney will get a question about the health-care exchanges or electronic health-care-records system, which he’ll defuse with another defensive, meandering word salad.

Implementing Obamacare? Hey, that’s for somebody else to worry about.

In over his head?

Tags: Barack Obama , Obamacare , Government Waste

Cut the Lego Purchases First, Mr. President.



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Here, let me help you with the sequestration, Mr. President.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is lamenting that his department will need to make drastic cuts that will immediately impact air traffic controllers and airport security lines. A quick perusal of Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn’s last annual Waste Report showcases a bunch of grant programs that could be cut or eliminated immediately to generate significant savings.

Let’s start at the Federal Highway Administration, and eliminate the National Scenic Byways Program entirely. Forever.

You’re asking, “the what?”

The National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP) is authorized by 23 U.S.C. § 162, and has been reauthorized and continued through March 31, 2012. The NSBP recognizes roads having outstanding scenic, historic, cultural, natural, recreational, and archaeological qualities. NSBP funding supports projects that manage and protect these intrinsic qualities, interpret these qualities for visitors, and improve visitor facilities along byways.

In fiscal 2012, roughly $20,600,000 were available for grants.

How does that money get spent?

Thirty-thousand Lego pieces, paid for with a $3,700 National Scenic Byways grant, are being assembled to build a miniature replica of a historic downtown street in Martinsburg, West Virginia.The 18-footlong display will depict Queen Street as it likely appeared in the 1920s and ‘30s.1020 It is expected to be a permanent exhibit at the “for the kids, by George” Children’s Museum, which will showcase George Washington’s “adventures in the Eastern Panhandle” of West Virginia. The museum is primarily funded with a $290,000 National Scenic Byways grant awarded by the Federal Highway Administration.

Buy your own damn Legos.

Then there’s the National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation program, which spent $9,762,116 in fiscal 2012. Of that amount, $650,000 was used to repair the Stevenson Road Covered Bridge in Greene County, Ohio, a bridge that is not actually connected to any roads or train tracks.

It’s time to stop providing federal grants for non-essential projects:

St. Louis is receiving more than $35 million in federal funds for “an old-fashioned style trolley system” that will run on a 2.2-mile line from the Missouri History Museum to the University City Library. The federal funds for the project include a $25 million Federal Transit Administration Urban Circulator grant, a $3.5 million New Markets Tax Credit, and $7.1 million in other federal transportation grants.

States and localities can’t come to Washington with the endless “crumbling roads and bridges” cry and then turn around and spend money on cute old-fashioned trolley systems.

Somehow $145,000 in U.S. Department of Transportation funds are being used for a sculpture garden in the town of Waterloo, Iowa, dedicated to former resident Lou Henry Hoover, the wife of 31st U.S. President Herbert Hoover.

Sculptures aren’t transportation. They don’t move.

It’s ridiculous for LaHood to complain about being asked to cut roughly 1.3 percent of his budget ($1 billion; the Obama administration requested $74 billion in its last budget request) when his department is funding nonsense like this.

Oh, and does the U.S. Department of Transportation really need a separate Undersecretary for Policy and an Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy?

Or did they really need to spend $2,810,246 sponsoring conferences last year?

Tags: Government Waste , Legos , Ray LaHood , Sequestration

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