Remember the $400 hammer and the $600 toilet seat? Those Pentagon procurement follies were meant to signify the bloat inherent in the Reagan-era defense buildup — and to imply, by extension, that the Gipper’s increased spending on national defense was itself a colossal waste.
As it turned out, the stories were urban legends. The Pentagon never spent $400 for a hammer, and the toilet seat wasn’t any ordinary toilet seat. It was a molded plastic shroud specifically designed to fit the P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft — not exactly the sort of thing you can pick up at the local big-box hardware store. All told, the 54 shrouds cost the Pentagon $34,560.
Nevertheless, the supposedly overpriced hammer and toilet quickly gained national fame. They were handy clubs for ideologues to beat the Reagan administration over the head with.
Well, we now have official word from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services that last year it made more than $70 billion — that’s billion with a B — in improper payments. That comes to more than the entire budgets for the Departments of State and Homeland Security.
Oddly — well, not so oddly — the news hasn’t made banner headlines, even though it closely follows a report by the GAO finding massive duplication and waste across government agencies. (And then there are federal aid-to-the-states programs, which, according to another recent study, now number more than 1,100.) Highlighting the real — as opposed to apocryphal — waste in Medicare and Medicaid would be highly inconvenient to congressional Democrats and other liberals trying to fight conservative efforts to cut government spending. It also would undermine the case for Obamacare, since it implies that a government takeover of health care will not produce the efficiencies and savings Obamacare supporters have so optimistically predicted.
Even in health care, $70 billion is a lot of money. Why, just think of all the toilet shrouds it could buy — even at $600 apiece.