All-Star Panel: Real estate drag on federal government

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 26, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COBURN, R - OK: One of the ways to save money right now is not build another structure and not release another structure, but force government agencies into the structures we have. That is what you do if you were broke. We're essentially broke. But we have nothing like that coming from the administration in terms of an executive order.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON, D - DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DELEGATE: 45,000 properties, with the government paying almost $2 billion just to keep them operational even though nobody may be in those properties.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ROBERTS, ANCHOR: D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton along with Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma talking about all the spending going on at the federal level. He seemed to have stolen my suit as well, Sen. Coburn did.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: Let's talk about that. Doug McKelway, and Susan, you are very familiar with Doug McKelway's reporting among other things, talking about this idea that we have all of these thousands, tens of thousands of properties that are sitting vacant, fallow, underused, unused whatever, costing us billions of dollars a year in upkeep. Meanwhile, because of sequestration, benefits for veteran's tuition have been cut off. And that was about $373 million in 2012. Sometimes you got to slap yourself upside the head to say where are the priorities here?

SUSAN FERRECHIO, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: I recommend that anybody Google "wasteful government spending" and you will just find so many things that will really make you feel so angry at the government for not getting this kind of thing under control. If you just do the math, 55,000 buildings, that's 1,300 empty buildings in every state that could be sold and the money could be used for whatever. It's true --

ROBERTS: But as Doug pointed out, the red tape --

FERRECHIO: They can't do it. I love the list you have to go through to try and sell -- everybody but stray animals gets a say on where these vacant buildings are going to go. And they've created that, I think, purposefully because they don't want to let this stuff go.

Don't forget the GSA, the Government Services Administration, are always under the gun, trying to sell stuff. This is -- the GSA is the group that had the $800,000 conference in Las Vegas. Should we really –

(CROSSTALK)

FERRECHIO: Should we be trusting these people to make sure we're spending our money frugally?

ROBERTS: But you know Kirsten, when you look at sequestration it proscribed how these cuts would take effect. Now you can't tinker around the edges, so is it fair to say, hey, they are spending all this money on buildings and meanwhile veterans aren't getting tuition because that's what sequestration said needed to happen.

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK POST: Well, yeah, but the question is did sequestration have to happen? If they were willing to make the cuts that needed to be made, then this wouldn't have had to happen. The reason that sequestration happened --

ROBERTS: They can't turn back the clock.

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: They don't want to, but they don't want to take on these issues.  So when you survey Americans they want to cut the government spending. Pew did a survey in February that looked at 19 different areas and asked people would you like to see spending cuts? In every area not a single one got majority support. So people broadly want cuts but they don't want specific cuts. So none of the politicians want to actually make the cuts. So then we end up with something like sequestration.

FERRECHIO: This is a problem on Capitol Hill. They are allergic. They break out in hives.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: Tim, Susan brought up the three magic words, "waste, fraud, and abuse."

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: How much waste, fraud and abuse is there out there?

TIM FARLEY, SIRIUS-XM RADIO: I don't know. And it goes back to William Proxmire, he used to do the Golden Fleece Awards, this has been around forever. He was the progenitor, if you will, to Tom Coburn. Here's the thing, you have all of the entitlement spending the Medicare, Social Security, that's about 40 percent of the budget. And that's probably the biggest elephant in the room that nobody seems to be able to handle.

And this is not to diminish the problem with waste, fraud, and abuse but the problem is that this -- and we've got this window right now where maybe something can be done because once we get past September, October, we're looking at next year's election and then of course everyone will start paying attention to 2016. There is a time and a place where that has to be taken care of. And if Congress wants to show any courage, any willingness to do it, that's where they need to be focused on. These are interesting but in many ways distractions to a much larger issue, which is what are we going to do with this huge entitlement package that we have, that's adding to the debt all the time?

ROBERTS: They're very good at can-kicking though when it comes to debt.

FARLEY: Yeah.

ROBERTS: We were talking about this earlier. When you look at the White House, and obviously our elected officials have to travel. But when you think of Joe Biden's one day in Paris, $320,000 for limousines, $600,000 for hotel rooms, the president and the White House get defensive about this. Did he have to go to Florida and spend $78,000 just on local law enforcement to play golf with Tiger Woods?

POWERS: No. Look, it always comes down to this like oh, but Bush did it, or somebody else did it. Yeah, they have all done this. This isn't an Obama problem. All presidents do this. We haven't always been in an economic downturn. You can say under Bush we were, I guess. Clinton did the same things.

The point is we don't need this, all this pomp and circumstance where they go on these trips. I think that they should cut back on this kind of stuff. I think it looks very bad and I think more important things to spend our money on.

FERRECHIO: Well, I think it makes it very hard for the administration to make the case that this sequestration is hurting people when they are spending money on things that seem so trivial. Half a million for a limo, for a night in a hotel room, are you kidding me? I mean people -- that's just an outrage.

ROBERTS: And could Tiger Woods and Butch Harmon have flown up here to play golf at Andrews Air Force base, which is just a short drive away from the White House?

FARLEY: I also think by the way, that there are ways, this is all symbolic in some way.  But symbolism matters in politics. But I also think there are ways to figure out how to make some cuts here and there. And I honestly think that Americans are about ready right now.  Let's face it. Who has not had to sacrifice at home and understand if you start making cutbacks, we can deal with that. Let's try to get some semblance of doing this together as Americans and march forward into glory or whatever. But the point is --

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: Great discussion tonight. Thank you for joining us tonight.  Folks that is it for the panel, but stay tuned to see what living on the edge really looks like.

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