Monday, February 14, 2005

Hyman in a Reformer's Disguise

No one likes to hear the phrases “government resources,” “high risk,” and “fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement” in the same sentence. The Government Accounting Office recently released a report identifying those areas of the government that at are at “highest risk,” often due to inefficient use of resources. This is a valuable exercise that helps us identify the squeaky wheels in the federal government. So why would anyone object to Mark Hyman bringing attention to the release of this study?

In a word, context. The GAO report on high risk areas of the government is itself a good thing. But it can be misused for propagandistic purposes. The GAO report should serve as a call to reform those areas of government that aren’t operating as efficiently as they should. However, in the mouths of many on the right (including Hyman), “reform” is a euphemism for “eliminate.” The most obvious example of this currently is Social Security, an institution that could be shored up indefinitely with relatively minor modifications. However, under the cover of “reform,” the Bush administration and its allies are attempting to dismantle the system entirely and replace it with a privatized investment scheme.

But Social Security is only the most recent and obvious example. Members of the far right aren’t against government waste; they’re against government, period. The more outraged they can make the average citizen about “wasteful government,” the better their chance of simply undoing many of the government programs that benefit that same average citizen, always under the cover of “sensible reform.”

To illustrate the disingenuousness of the extreme right on this matter, let’s look at one example of a high-risk area named by the GAO report: enforcement of tax laws. Recently, Senators Charles Grassley and Max Baucus suggested a number of ways in which tax laws could be simplified and more equitably enforced, eliminating many of the unintentional loopholes and tax dodge schemes that allow those with a penchant for creative accounting to avoid paying their fair share for the nation’s upkeep. Given Hyman’s concern over government waste, you’d think he’d support this effort. After all, more efficient enforcement of the tax code could bring in over $300 billion that we, the taxpayers, are owed by those who renege on their commitment
. But on the contrary, only days ago, Hyman decried this as an effort of big government to take away more of “your money.” As we pointed out at the time, it’s only “your” money if you’re one of those who willfully twist the tax code into a pretzel to avoid pitching in for the nation’s defense and operation.

The GAO report in and of itself is a fine thing, but we should be careful that it not be misrepresented in an effort to eliminate government services that help many Americans just because a few Americans don’t want to help pay for them. Beware of right-wing extremists in reformers’ clothing.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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