Critical Condition

What about the Entitlements/Health-Care Complex?

President Obama recently stepped in front of his teleprompter and declared, “The impulse in Washington to protect jobs back home building things we don’t need has a cost that we can’t afford.”

It appears that the president has finally found federal government spending that he doesn’t like. But he wasn’t talking about the largest spending bill in American history that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid had cobbled together. He was only talking about a fraction of it: defense spending, which represents about one-fifth of the spending in Washington.

Wasteful spending on defense is a bad thing. It’s costly, fritters away hard-earned taxpayer money, and undermines our security. President Obama is rightfully exercised about this and boldly promised during his August 17 speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars: “If Congress sends me a defense bill loaded with a bunch of pork, I will veto it.”

But pork isn’t just dressed in camo. Doesn’t it strike you as strange that the president doesn’t make the same threat when it comes to entitlements and domestic spending?

Indeed, President Obama has been completely mum about taxpayer dollars from the stimulus being wasted. They were literally giving away stimulus money in New York and nary a word came from the White House. And his lament that defense dollars are being used by Congressmen to “protect jobs back home,” has not been repeated when it comes to ridiculous earmarks. The president is, to say the least, being wildly inconsistent.

President Obama told the VFW: “You’ve heard the stories, the indefensible no-bid contracts that cost taxpayers billions and make contractors rich, the special interests and their exotic projects that are years behind schedule and billions over budget, the entrenched lobbyists pushing weapons that even our military says it doesn’t want.”

But the same problems persist with other major government programs. Pentagon spending is ladled with pork and waste precisely because it is government spending. Whenever you give people the opportunity to spend someone else’s money, they are simply not going to pay as much attention to where it goes. And that applies even more in Washington, where lobbyists and political allies are looking for favors.

Medicare, for example, is rife with fraud. The federal government estimates that $60 billion is lost every year in the program due to fraud. Only a few weeks before President Obama spoke before the VFW, federal authorities arrested 30 people across the country in a sting operation against Medicare fraud. In the last two years, close to 300 people have been charged by federal authorities on similar grounds. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

If President Obama is really concerned about wasteful government spending, he should begin by rethinking his solution to the health-care crisis. The more the federal government spends, the more power is centralized, the more you create the conditions for fraud and wasteful spending. Yet, this is precisely what his plan would do. We all know about the military-industrial complex. It’s time we recognize that there is also an entitlements/health-care complex.

We need to deal with wasteful Pentagon spending. But it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that Obama singled out defense spending because he wants to cut it — and little else. Remember that the $787 billion stimulus package that the Democrats passed and the president signed earlier this year specifically excluded the Pentagon.

The president is planning to go on a spending spree of historical proportions. Just how much are we talking about? As the Heritage Foundation points out, he inherited a situation where publicly held debt as a percentage of the economy was 40.8%. That’s too high, but it was nearly five points lower than the historic average. But if what Obama has proposed becomes law, that would rise to a stunning 82.4% by 2019.

As much as President Obama doesn’t want to admit it, the problem here is not simply the Pentagon but the federal government entirely. The Pentagon budget is wasteful, but the concentration of federal power in health care will make it more efficient? Set up an opportunity to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer money, and pork and fraud will inevitably follow.

– Former congressman Bob McEwen is chairman of Renewing American Leadership.