Op-Eds

Like many Americans, I was disappointed earlier this year when Congress and the Obama administration were unable to agree on a bipartisan, long-term deficit-reduction plan.

And I was again disappointed when we spoiled a rare second chance to get it right with the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or "supercommittee." Each time, we missed a golden opportunity to start reining in our massive federal debt.

Despite this latest setback, I refuse to give up. Getting our debt and deficit under control is critical for the well-being of our nation and economy. Congress and the administration must come to an agreement on a robust, balanced deficit-reduction package.

If we can't agree, $1.2 trillion in spending cuts -- split equally between defense and domestic programs -- will begin in 2013. We shouldn't twiddle our thumbs until then -- we should start reducing our deficit today."

Between now and Jan. 1, 2013, I will redouble my efforts to curb waste and fraud throughout the federal government, an important component often absent from the deficit-reduction conversation over spending cuts versus revenue increases.

I hope all members of Congress will join me in working to reduce our deficit by focusing on getting better results for less money.

Many Americans think our government squanders billions of dollars through waste and ineffectiveness. They're right. What our government needs to do is shift from a culture of spendthrift to a culture of thrift. Ahead of the mandated 2013 cuts, Congress and the administration can achieve real savings -- without making harmful cuts to critical programs -- if we adopt policies to encourage this sea change in culture.

In the Senate, I chair a subcommittee that has identified many bipartisan solutions to curb wasteful and inefficient government spending. During its deliberations, I wrote to the supercommittee -- and met with its Senate members -- to suggest that they adopt a number of those ideas in their proposal. However, my suggestions do not require the approval of a special committee in order to go into effect. Congress and the administration can enact many of them today.

The first places where we must look for savings -- without cutting benefits -- are Medicare and Medicaid, two vital entitlement programs that lose tens of billions of dollars annually to waste, fraud, abuse, and inefficient management. Recent laws, including the health care reform act of 2010 and legislation that I co-authored to reduce the number of improper payments by the federal government, have started to address these programs' vulnerabilities. We're seeing progress in this effort, but far more can be done.

To that end, earlier this year, I introduced legislation with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that would enact stronger penalties for those found guilty of Medicare and Medicaid fraud and put in place tools to better identify and prevent waste and abuse. Co-sponsored by a third of the Senate, this bill would save scarce taxpayer dollars while protecting quality health care for the millions of Americans who depend on Medicare and Medicaid.

Another powerful tool to curb wasteful spending would be presidential line-item veto authority. Nearly half of the Senate has co-sponsored legislation that I co-authored with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to give the president a 'budget scalpel' to slash wasteful projects or programs that aren't getting promised results. For the next four years, it would require Congress to either approve or reject the president's proposals to reduce or eliminate spending in an appropriations bill after he or she had signed that bill into law.

This measure should have the added benefit of bringing more transparency and accountability to what Congress chooses to spend money on. While it's not a silver bullet for eliminating federal deficits, as part of a multi-pronged approach, this four-year test drive of line-item veto authority would give us another tool in our arsenal to root out wasteful spending.

Finally, we must address broader government inefficiency.

The federal government owns roughly 1 million pieces of property across the country. Unfortunately thousands of those properties are unnecessary and underutilized, wasting billions annually due to poor management of maintenance, utilities, and security expenses. Holding unneeded property carries a hidden opportunity cost: we can simultaneously earn revenues by selling properties and achieve savings by reducing maintenance costs. In other words, if we shed unneeded properties and ensure we get the best bang for the taxpayers' buck with the properties the federal government owns or leases, we'll waste fewer tax dollars through inefficiency. We must craft effective legislation to address the problems with the current federal property disposal process, while finding ways for agencies to utilize federal assets more efficiently and cost-effectively.

These solutions are just a sample of the many initiatives that can help curb our deficit by improving government efficiency and reducing wasteful spending. These proposals aren't Democratic or Republican -- they're common-sense. Congress must get our deficit-reduction goals right, work together, compromise, and govern effectively to make the best decisions for our nation.