House budgeteers seek fraud-fighting advice

Members of the House Ways and Means Committee Thursday grilled General Accounting Office chief David Walker during a hearing on government waste, fraud and abuse, with a key issue being the difficulty of decoding Medicare and tax regulations.

The hearing was a result of the Budget Committee's mandate that all House committees should hold hearings on how best to reduce the federal deficit by stopping fraud and waste within government agencies.

Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., said while the options for eliminating fraud sounded modest, they could produce as much as $33 billion in savings.

However, Ways and Means ranking member Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. made clear his stance on the issue by saying that when he first saw the committee's press release detailing their plan to get rid of the deficit, "I thought it was put out by Democrats!"

In defense of the plan, Walker mentioned several cases in which he believed it would be possible to reduce fraud, including eliminating from the Medicare rolls fugitives and those who were citizens of the United States, but were not currently residing in the country.

During the question and answer period, committee members detailed their own problems understanding Medicare and tax regulations, despite the fact that several of them are certified accountants.

For example, Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., described how several months after she contested the IRS' claim that she made a mistake when filling out her taxes, they still have not gotten back to her.

Dunn said she could not begin to imagine what the typical taxpayer had to go through.

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