There's more to waste than spending

Yesterday the GAO issued a report commissioned by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn detailing areas where government programs are redundant, wasteful or otherwise inefficient. In total it projects the government could save between $100 and $200 billion by cutting these programs, a figure Republicans seized on as proof that government is bloated, wasteful and in need of trimming. While some areas do indeed sound duplicitous -- like 20 different programs to deal with homelessness -- the idea of a single uber-program tackling homelessness among veterans, the mentally ill and runaway youth, in everywhere from rural Alaska to inner-city Baltimore…well, it sounds like a setup for more government-bashing against “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

What every Republican who seized upon the report conveniently overlooked was the report’s mention of the $1 trillion in tax expenditures the government gives out each year. The GAO estimates that streamlined, better-targeted tax expenditures would also increase government revenue. As the US Public Interest Research Group has shown, attacking corporate waste by closing corporate loopholes and making businesses pay their fair share in taxes could raise $272 billion in one year and $1.3 trillion by 2015. That’s more than the sum of wasteful government programs identified by the GAO and much more than the across-the-board $60 billion Republicans want to cut from this year’s budget. If some of these corporate loopholes were closed, we wouldn’t need to be debating austerity measures or scouring government for traces of overlap.

Sarah Babbage is an intern with Demos. This piece is part of a series of articles and posts from Demos on Our Fiscal Security.