Boondoggles are legislative pornography, elaborately crafted spending vehicles that create government waste by not solving problems. Congress would never be able to agree on what a boondoggle is and Democrats might tell you that there is no such thing, but we all know a boondoggle is coming long before it hits the president’s desk. Consider this snippet from Harry Reid about a proposed cybersecurity bill:
This measure is the product of more than three years of bipartisan cooperation across several committees working diligently to incorporate input from a wide array of public and private sector stakeholders.¹
Committees, stakeholders, lobbyists, and special interests are the problem. Boondoggle bills are big, messy, and inevitably result in failure. The money lost is piled on the government waste heap with promises of reclamation from new, more sweeping legislation to come.
Remember the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, the bill that was going to secure the border and crack down on employers who hired illegal immigrants? We are still haggling over how to get those jobs done and are on the verge of admitting that we made such a mess the only solution to the problem is to give up and grant amnesty.
Boondoggles wrench untold billions in government waste from taxpayers. Is the best solution to budget cuts a ban on boondoggles?
Would a GOP boondoggle bill fix budget bloat?
Boondoggles are easy enough to see coming. When lawmakers admit that we won’t know what a bill like the Affordable Care Act does until it has been passed and agencies dispute how much it will cost, we know we have a boondoggle.
Lawmakers will never agree to cut what they have already planned to spend, but the GOP could still pass an anti-boondoggle bill to head off legislation still in the drafting phase. How do you write a bill to cut down bloat without creating another boondoggle? Perhaps Congress could truthfully combine the president’s 10 cent test with the $1 spending test: whatever we pass can’t add so much as a dime to the deficit, every dollar we spend has to be cut somewhere else, and every bill has to account for every penny of spending.
Boondoggles leave a trail of government waste.
This is what happens when Congress gets overexcited about fixing a problem:
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
Unread pages, uncertainty, and misinformation about costs and penalties make up the ultimate Obama era boondoggle. The Obamacare bill never addressed how it would live up to its preamble promise to deliver “Quality, Affordable Health Care for All Americans” because it never dealt with Medicare spending or devised a workable way to afford health care for low income Americans. Obamacare II, anyone?
The Senate’s S. 1258 offered grants, adult education, emergency relief, and health care for underserved communities. What we know an immigration boondoggle won’t do is what Democrats promised conservatives: secure the border and make sure illegals get right with the law. Besides, if Congress was really concerned about protecting us from illegal immigration it would have stepped in before Homeland Security punished Republicans for sequester cuts by releasing jailed illegals to our streets.
Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform
After Democrats administered their 849-page symbolic spanking to Wall Street, this is what the president promised:
And to make sure America never goes through a crisis like that again, we passed tough new Wall Street reform to end taxpayer-funded bailouts for good.³
There is still no consensus whether Dodd-Frank hurts or helps us. The Government Accountability Office decided that regulations in the bill could slow economic growth³ and that:
Experts have a wide range of views on the act’s potential to enhance financial stability, with some maintaining that certain reforms could make the financial system more vulnerable to a crisis.4
President Obama sold us the cure for another Great Depression. Four years later we have 7.9% unemployment, are sitting on the largest deficits ever, and are still trying to afford all those public employees we rescued back in 2009.
Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act
Was this ironic approach to dealing with childhood obesity really necessary? Washington can legislate what kids eat (see: Legislating Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids: Did Everyone Miss the Point?), but it can’t fix the government waste in the National School Lunch Program with its $1.6 billion, 15.5% bad payment rate.5
And one more as yet unnamed boondoggle, still in its formative stages. We will call it:
The Cybersecurity and Critical Infrastructure Protection Act
The president has signed an executive order and has been stumping about protecting our critical infrastructure while cybersecurity simmers on the Democratic Party’s back burner. Look for a mammoth boondoggle coming soon that links the cybersecurity crisis to repairing our deteriorating infrastructure. In the meantime, if information security is a concern Washington might want to figure out how to protect the personal information of its employees, like those working at the recently hacked Department of Energy. Our government shouldn’t require a new boondoggle to do that.