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Fiscal hawks say government waste, unspent funds could offset sequester

 

While the Obama administration says automatic spending cuts will mean budget pain for Americans everywhere, lawmakers say the government is sitting on more than enough money to soften the blow. 

The sequester is expected to take a $85 billion bite out of the fiscal 2013 budget, though only half of that impact is expected to be felt this year.
But lawmakers say the government already has $45 billion in unspent money which could be used to offset the shortfall 

"There are pots of money sitting in different departments across the federal government, that have been authorized over either ... a number of months or a number of years," Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., said. 

Fresh legislation would authorize that money, which hasn't yet been spent, to be used elsewhere. 

Price introduced that legislation Tuesday along with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. It would require the director of the White House budget office to rescind funds that haven't yet been obligated.    

"Washington's reckless spending culture has produced this situation where hundreds of billions of dollars are borrowed and then left unspent because Congress routinely bites off more than it can chew," Rubio said in a statement. 

Republican Sen. Tom Coburn has also identified several programs at the Pentagon he'd set aside, including a video called "grill sergeants" in which the instructors show their favorite recipes; money for a plan to send a space ship to another solar system; funds to find advancements in beef jerky from France; and $6 billion on questionable research, including what lessons about democracy and decision-making could be learned -- from fish. 

Coburn and others also refer to what they call "duplication nation" -- dozens of programs intended for the same purpose. 

"There are 50 different literacy agencies, 100 different programs focused on science, tech and engineering," Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said. 

Nevertheless, one Democrat mocked those who argue Washington should cut back the way families do. 

"Can't we just cut 2 percent just like American families?" said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., echoing the question posed repeatedly by GOP lawmakers. "American families don't run prisons. They don't build their own roads. They don't have to put out their own local police department." 

Though Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano argues the sequester threatens border security, Citizens Against Government Waste President Tom Schatz says the department has $9 billion dollars in unspent preparedness funds. 

He also cited one government study that found 47 job training programs across the federal government. 

Further, critics point to $90,000 spent to upgrade security at a spring training site in Arizona for professional baseball teams. 

Then there's allegations of waste at the General Services Administration. The agency, which runs federal properties, won notoriety when a regional director famously memorialized a lavish government-paid trip to Vegas with a photo of himself in a hot tub. 

But aside from the money spent on conferences, lawmakers note that many buildings in the GSA inventory go unused. 

In 2010, President Obama said GSA had roughly $15 billion in property that should be sold by 2014. Only a portion has been so far. As of January 2012, the administration claimed they had reduced real property spending by $2.4 billion from the sale of underutilized federal properties and better management. 

Some lawmakers hope that the panic over the sequester, which will hit Friday absent any congressional intervention, will force a closer look at wasteful spending. 

Fox News' Jim Angle contributed to this report.