April 20, 2019

Penny-pinching senator

One of the few Maine politicians not running for office this fall, Sen. William Cohen continues to build a resume of waste-busting legislation that should save taxpayers billions of dollars. Passage of a law last week based on his Medicare report that found medical suppliers cheating the system was only the latest in a series of investigations into the black hole of Washington spending.

Sen. Cohen is hardly alone in his interest to save tax dollars by making government work more honestly and efficiently, but a combination of his rise to ranking minority member on some key committees and the transformation into law of several investigations have given him a high profile in Washington. Consider that in the last 18 months, he has issued reports and introduced bills on the following: How the federal government buys computers that are outdated or inadequate even before they land on an employees’ desks. His report also details how employees and computers don’t, well, interface. The Farmers Home Administration, for instance, continues to manage a loan portfolio manually by using color-coded index cards despite spending $200 million on computers to do the job. In the middle of the health care debate last summer, the senator released a study showing billions of dollars being wasted annually in a wide range of health fraud. The Medicare law passed last week will reduce some of that by setting a quality standard on durable medical goods and will tighten control on Medicare billing numbers used by medical suppliers. Dismayed by the number of drug-addicted recipients of government services, Sen. Cohen and others introduced and had passed legislation to push the indigent into treatment to continue to receive benefits. Before, the cash payments from the government were found to have simply financed the habits of some 250,000 people.

Sen. Cohen has been involved in efforts to stop government waste in everything from how the FDIC mismanages sales of of real estate owned by banks that have failed, to how little the government receives from concessions on federal land, to how the Pentagon spends its travel money (the senator discovered that it spends more money processing travel vouchers than it does on its employees actual traveling).

Taxpayers seems to have gotten a message to Sen. Cohen. They know the government wastes too much too often; they needed someone who knew the labyrinth of Washington to expose that waste, and Sen. Cohen has been eager to oblige. Cynics will say that he merely is grandstanding. Taxpayers can reply, Who cares, as long as he keeps exposing waste?

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