Not surprisingly, the report garnered adoring press attention. Stories of “gold-plated potties” in Arkansas feed into stereotypes about unaccountable government bureaucrats. Plus, there’s a comforting moral here: Surely, the report suggests, we can balance the budget without wincing—all we need to do is rid ourselves of waste, fraud, and abuse. Lower taxes and better government. What’s not to love?
Trouble is, a closer look at Coburn’s “Wastebook” (which, mind you, was also footed by taxpayers) suggests there’s less here than advertised.
Indeed, rather than the massive savings Coburn promised, there are a couple of billion dollars. That's not to say we shouldn't cut spending -- the Defense Department, and on unneeded corporate subsidies, and legitimate waste are among other items at the top of my list; we obviously need to do more to control health care spending. But there just isn't enough fat to cut to reach balance by cutting alone -- revenues will need to increase as well. Pretending that spending cuts alone will solve our budget problems, while a pleasant fantasy, just isn't realistic.
-- Tim Fernholz