The fourth edition of the Senator James Lankford (R-OK) Federal Fumbles book came out this week. The annual oversight report is taking a different approach this year. Rather than being a compendium of wacky spending programs and clear examples of waste, fraud and abuse as it has in the past, this edition is a summary of some of the large systemic problems that plague our government.
Lankford is publishing proposals to correct the root causes of the waste and inefficiency along with clear solutions to these problems. Rather than trying to play Whack-a-Mole with a mallet – Senator Lankford is looking to unplug the entire game.
The entire report is an easy and informative read. You can check it out here: Federal Fumbles V. 4
The report is broken into a few main categories: budget, immigration, Senate rules, transparency, rural broadband, infrastructure, RFS, federal hiring, regulatory reform and veterans. It also ends with a few accomplishments that were designated as “touchdowns” or “forward progress.”
We’re going to take a look at two of the issues that are core to Pursuit’s mission: fixing the broken budget and enhancing government transparency.
Fix the Budget
We found out this week that the deficit for the first four months of Fiscal Year 2019 was $310 billion – or 77 percent – larger than last year. This is a very serious problem that needs a bipartisan commitment to serious solutions. Fortunately – that is where Senator Lankford starts off his report.
We didn’t need a 35-day shutdown to reassure us that the federal budget process is still fundamentally broken. The $22 trillion debt does just fine. Federal budgets and funding bills are never on time and there are zero real incentives to control our run-a-way debt. After 40 years of failure under the current budget process, it’s clear that this is not a self-correcting problem. It’s going to take process changes.
Senator Lankford offers up a series of ideas to help fix the budget mess, including:
- Ending government shutdowns by allowing the government to continue operating in the event a funding bill is not passed on time, but members and staff of Congress and the White House would be prohibited from traveling anywhere outside of DC until the funding bills are passed. Build the wall…around DC.
- Eliminating the President’s budget, a product that Lankford describes as a costly and misleading political document.
- Requiring Congress to take up deficit reduction bills via a special process each year, which means Congress would actually have to grapple with the nearly $1 trillion annual deficit.
- Revamping the Congressional budget process so that there are clear milestones to achieve and incentives for Congress to reach a timely and transparent funding agreement.
- Making the Congressional budget a federal law, which would change the Congressional budget from a mostly empty partisan document to a binding one that requires the President’s signature. This would have the effect of setting the actual budget numbers earlier in the process rather than hammering out last-second budget deals in the backrooms of leadership offices.
- Eliminating blatant budget gimmicks like the fraudulent Changes in Mandatory Spending (CHIMPs) gimmick that lets Congress overspend by $15 billion each year by raiding accounts intended for crime victims and children’s health.
- Reforming the debt limit so it actually deals with the debt instead of the current process of treating it like an arbitrary economic time bomb.
The Federal Fumbles primarily champions transparency efforts by highlighting Lankford’s Taxpayers Right to Know Act – a common sense transparency and performance bill that would require a program inventory of all the federal programs that cost more than $1 million. The bill that has near-unanimous support in Congress but has been blocked from becoming law by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on very flimsy grounds. You can read more about the important bill here: Do Taxpayers Have the Right to Know How Their Money is Spent?
The report also touts the GREAT Act – which would improve federal grantmaking by streamlining some data components and making a more transparent process.
Speaking of grants – though the report shied away from the examples-based method of years past– it did highlight two ridiculous uses of our tax dollars. A $50,400 National Endowment for the Humanities grant funded the research and writing of the book Whites and Reds: Wine in the Lands of Tsar and Commissar which “examines the ways Russia used its wine industry to befriend Europe during the Russian Empire and the Soviet eras.” The report also found $725,000 tax dollars have gone to a Mariachi Master Apprenticeship program.
The report covers several other important issues, such as a multitude of immigration issues besides border security, federal hiring problems, regulatory reform, the massive IT problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the fact that Congress keeps adding federal land to the overstretched base without providing the resources to maintain our existing land.
The report wasn’t all bad news. Lankford highlighted a few points of success over the last year, including:
- A growing economy;
- Passage of the Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act, legislation that removes gag clauses that kept patients from knowing that alternative medications are cheaper;
- DOL bringing back Association Health Plans that help self-employed and small-businesses come together rot purchase health insurance;
- IRS regulations falling under the same process as other federal rulemaking, bringing more transparency to the agency; and
- Passage of criminal justice reform including a provision Lankford advocated for to prohibit the solitary confinement of juveniles.
To learn more about all of these issues and proposed solutions from Senator Lankford, check out the Federal Fumbles book here.