$100 million! How little that is in Washington

Monday President Barack Obama ordered his cabinet to find $100 million in savings to achieve over time. His decision to shave spending won him headlines and lead stories on the evening news.
A pair of Associated Press writers took a harder look to achieve perspective. Here’s what that $100 million amounts to:
— Less than one-quarter of the budget increase that Congress awarded to itself.
— 4 percent of the military aid the United States sends to Israel.
— Less than half the cost of one F-22 fighter plane.
— 7 percent of the federal subsidy for the money-losing Amtrak passenger rail system.
— 1/10,000th of the government’s operating bud-gets for Cabinet agencies, excluding the Iraq and Afghan wars and the stimulus bill.
In short, cutting $100 million from a budget now measured in trillions is not even a baby step toward dealing with the deficit monster and the $11 trillion national debt.
Meaningful spending cuts won’t happen until Congress and the administration tackle the toughies.
The war in Iraq still drains away billions every month. The war in Afghanistan is escalating. Yet Congress continues to spend heavily on weapons systems the Pentagon doesn’t need or want. Because the military-industrial complex has cleverly created de-fense jobs in 40 of the 50 states, reducing that waste will be an enormous political challenge.
Health care costs consume 17 percent of the gross national product and continue to rise. But health care costs won’t come under control until Congress and the administration find ways to rein in the huge costs created by competing specialty hospitals and clinics and the health insurance industry. More than 50 percent of the health care burden is borne by government. Bringing government budgets un-der control will require controlling health care spending.
Doing so will affect millions of highly organized stakeholders.
It remains to be seen whether the president has the will and the ability to effect significant reform in this key industry.
There are lesser re-forms that would add up to billions in savings: It is long past time to junk the farm subsidy program and start over. A tangled web of subsidies and tax breaks to businesses, industries and professions has been woven into state and federal law over the years that sucks billions out of government budgets every year.
Retirement rules and pension provisions for government workers en-courage expensive double-dipping. The system should be revised to reflect changing demographics.
Social Security pension payments will begin to add to the federal budget when retired baby boomers use up the trust fund. Reform now could prevent that additional drain.
The bottom line: Both President Obama and Congress will have to take $100 billion steps to get to good fiscal management of our federal government.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.