Iowa Republican Ernst Emerging as Senate’s Top Foe of Government Waste

September 25, 2019 Updated: September 26, 2019

WASHINGTON—There must be something in the water in Iowa that makes Republicans like Sen. Joni Ernst recoil at the thought of a tax dollar being wasted by government bureaucrats.

Sen. Charles Grassley, Iowa’s long-serving senior senator, has exposed government boondoggles for decades, while another Iowan, Rep. H.R. Gross, was dubbed “the useful pest” for being on the floor whenever Congress was in session and using his mastery of House rules to stop official squandering.

These days, Ernst, who retired from the Army National Guard as a lieutenant colonel a few months after being elected to the Senate in 2014, is pushing a legislative package of eight major anti-waste and fraud bills.

Her bills are designed to stop needless Department of Defense (DOD) outlays, force bureaucrats throughout the federal government to be more transparent on their projects’ costs, put an end to “Billion Dollar Boondoggles,” and clamp down on Washington’s notorious “Christmas in September” end-of-the-fiscal-year spending sprees.

Those September sprees are a particular concern for the Iowa senator. Speaking on the Senate floor on Sept. 4, Ernst provided senatorial colleagues some important context on the issue.

“Federal agencies end every year with leftover money in their budgets. This year, it’s estimated the government will end up with more than $825 billion in unspent funds that have not been committed by contract or otherwise obligated to be spent,” she said.

Those funds could have been used to turn last year’s $804 billion federal budget deficit into a surplus, she said, “if the unobligated balances being held in the federal coffers had been canceled.”

Federal agencies instead bought “lobster tails and, get this, tons of tater tots,” Ernst said.

Legislation

Such frivolous outlays would end under Ernst’s End-of-Year Fiscal Responsibility Act. The proposal would do so by limiting spending during the last two months of a fiscal year to no more than the average of an agency’s expenditures during the prior 10 months.

The other seven proposals in the Ernst anti-waste and fraud package include:

  • The Defense Storage and Supply Efficiency Improvement Act, which gives the DOD authority to consolidate and eliminate excess storage resources worth an estimated $500 million.
  • The Billion Dollar Boondoggle Act mandates an annual report by federal agencies to taxpayers listing every government project that is $1 billion or more over budget or five or more years behind schedule.
  • The Cost Openness and Spending Transparency Act (COST) requires every project receiving federal funds to publish the dollar amount and the percentage of the overall budget consumed by such projects.
  • The No Budget, No Recess Act sets deadlines for Congress to approve budgets, and if the deadlines aren’t met, would deny funds for congressional travel. In addition, the House and Senate would not be allowed to adjourn for more than eight hours, and two quorum calls would be held each day.
  • The Currency Evolution Now to Save (CENTS) Act gives permission to the Department of the Treasury to save $150 million by changing the composition of nickels, dimes, quarters, and half-dollars to save taxpayer funds, as long as such changes don’t adversely affect the coins’ size and functionality.
  • The Bogus Bonus Ban Act addresses the problem of generous awarding of bonuses by federal agencies to government contractors who don’t perform at least satisfactorily.
  • The Presidential Allowance Modernization Act would put a ceiling on benefits provided to former presidents, including monetary support for travel, staff, communications, and office space.

The Pentagon’s prominence in Ernst’s efforts isn’t coincidental, as she told a few reporters in her office for a recent pen-and-pad session that she loves the “DOD, but there’s a lot of waste there. They’ve spent money on lobster tails, candy bars, video games, all kinds of stuff that we really didn’t need in the federal government.”

Reaction

Ernst’s realism sparks praise from a broad middle slice of the political spectrum. Project on Government Oversight Executive Director Danielle Brian, for example, told The Epoch Times on Sept. 24 that “unfortunately, fiscal watchdogs in Congress have become an endangered species. Senator Ernst is one of only a handful of senators offering legislation to hold all agencies accountable for excessive spending, including the Pentagon.”

Similarly, Taxpayers’ Protection Alliance President David Williams told The Epoch Times that Ernst is “a lone voice of fiscal responsibility in a Congress that seemingly doesn’t care about the deficit or the debt.”

“While other members of Congress ignore the fiscal crisis as we near the end of the fiscal year, she keeps fiscal responsibility at the top of her agenda. In fact, her ‘End-of-Year Fiscal Responsibility Act,’ which would rein-in end-of-year spending sprees, shows her staunch commitment to taxpayers and common sense,” Williams said.

The Ernst package may seem familiar to veteran Senate observers who recall Sen. Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican physician whose anti-wasteful spending crusades from 2005 until his 2015 retirement from Congress earned him the sobriquet of “Dr. No.” Now, a highly talented staff architect from Coburn’s Senate efforts, Roland Foster, is a key adviser to Ernst.

John Hart, another old Coburn hand, was seen during the pen-and-pad session, chatting up reporters before and after. Hart, a communications expert, was there with Adam Andrzejewski, founder and president of Open The Books.

Open The Books is an Illinois-based nonprofit dedicated to increasing government transparency at all levels by “putting every dime online in real time.” Coburn is honorary chairman of Open The Books.

Andrzejewski told The Epoch Times on Sept. 24 that “Ernst should be commended for doing the hard work of oversight. Her bill to stop the billion-dollar year-end spending spree would revolutionize the way agencies spend taxpayer money.”

Significantly, during a speech on the Senate floor on Sept. 24, Ernst said, “Folks, we’ve got to put an end to this madness, seriously. Someone has to be the Grinch on behalf of our taxpayers.”

Contact Mark Tapscott at mark.tapscott@epochtimes.nyc.

 

 

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