COMMENTARY | With the U.S. federal government slated to default on its debt starting on October 17 if no budget deal is made and/or the debt ceiling is not raised, Congress is looking closely at which programs should be given priority in the event that the Treasury begins running low on funds. One program that is under scrutiny, as revealed in an expose by CBS, is the Federal Disability Insurance Program, begun back in the 1950s. Within the last six years, roughly the length of the Great Recession and its lingering aftermath, “federal disability” has seen its number of recipients grow by 20 percent. Critics are wondering how so many citizens could have suddenly become disabled within such a short time span…and why safeguards are not preventing abuse of the program.
The expose reveals that, at least in some areas, there is a lucrative “black market” in medical documentation for disability, with lawyers and doctors, and even administrative judges, appearing to work in concert to approve masses of people for disability…and make big bucks doing so. Lawyers, it turns out, can collect legal fees from the government for representing clients who are granted disability status. A lawyer who has an under-the-table agreement with a doctor and a disability judge could rake in millions in fees and redistribute the loot among his co-conspirators.
Is disability fraud widespread? Is the reporting faulty? Did CBS focus on the exceptions rather than the norm?
Congress needs to shine a light into the dark recesses of spending, both entitlement and defense, and plumb the inefficient workings to find what can be retooled. Political gridlock and mounting debt has led us to this dank situation, but a silver lining of the current crisis is that now politicians can be forgiven for breaking the taboo of questioning sacred cows: Is the government too lenient in terms of granting disability? Do we really need a dozen aircraft carrier battle groups? Is it wise to try to pay to expand public colleges and universities so that everyone can go to college?
Liberal politicians may snarl at conservatives’ negative critiques of federal disability payments, but they may shine their own light at wasteful defense spending. Let each side lay bare the waste accepted by the other, hopefully revealing an eventual way out of our nation’s spending crisis. Now is the time to get mad and, by getting mad, discover solutions.
It will not be pretty but, under the threat of default, it is necessary. Let the flashlights begin probing.