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Inside the effort to improve the efficiency of federal operations.

Lawmakers Hunt Sequester Alternative in Defense, DHS Savings

House lawmakers on Tuesday probed for alternatives to sequestration’s across-the-board budget cuts, interrogating executives and auditors from agencies many lawmakers associate with wasteful spending -- the Defense and Homeland Security departments.

The resulting fireworks touched on scenarios ranging from Cabinet members resigning to fighter planes being canceled to inspectors general gaining more subpoena authority.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., pinch-hitting as chairman at the start of the hearing, one of a series held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, accused the Obama administration of “touting, now that the sequester in effect, allegedly harmful consequences rather than identifying waste fraud and abuse.” He rattled off a list of questionable federal expenditures such as $27 million for pottery classes in Morocco, a half-million on specialty shampoos for dogs and cats, $14,000 on swine manure management. He then proposed that the committee “work in a bipartisan, productive and non-alarmist manner.”

Mica then blasted the Homeland Security Department officials for having too many highly paid Transportation Security Administration employees bunched up at headquarters at the same time that Secretary Janet Napolitano was warning this month that sequestration would cause long waits for passengers to go through airport screening. “Any reason Janet Napolitano...

Those National Debt Clocks on Congressional Websites Are Wrong

National debt clocks are all the rage on Republican lawmakers' websites. Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho has one. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has one, too. At least 54 other lawmakers have them as well. But if you look at the figures on the clocks, you'll notice an obvious discrepancy.

Writing on the blog Smart Politics, University of Minnesota's Eric Ostermeier finds that national debt clocks on congressional websites are far from being in sync. He went through 56 senators' and representatives' websites on Sunday and found 16 different debt values. The discrepancy between the highest and lowest tallies was $758 billion (5 percent of the total debt by Ostermeier's estimate).

The highest estimate comes from Coburn's website, at $17.3 trillion (as of Sunday). The lowest estimate was on fellow Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte's site at $16.5 trillion (also from Sunday). 

According to the Treasury Department, the "total public debt outstanding" is $16.7 trillion (as of March 7). By Ostermeier's calculations, the average of all the clocks was $16.716 trillion, which is basically on point.

In reality, a completely accurate debt clock couldn't be constructed. Or if it could...

The Real Budget Battle

If you think the undercard bouts have been a tad boring, fear not. The main event is just around the corner, and it promises to be worth the price of admission.

Two months into the 113th Congress, Capitol Hill has featured a discernible lack of drama. The sequester cuts went into effect with barely a whimper. The House is pushing a new continuing resolution that is poised to pass the Senate and become law, thus avoiding a government shutdown in late March. And both parties will soon unveil budget proposals that, predictably, stand no chance of passing both the House and the Senate. This series of small policy battles has lulled Washington to sleep and effectively masked the long, slow windup to the war that started all wars: raising the debt ceiling.

Back in January, House Speaker John Boehner convinced his conference that another knock-down, drag-out fight over the debt limit would be a counterproductive way to start the new Congress, and he asked members to push back the statutory limit on the nation’s borrowing authority until mid-May. In exchange, Boehner agreed to a list of conservative demands, including upholding the sequester, passing a continuing resolution with post-sequester spending...

It’s Obama’s Economy—at Last

For most of his first term, President Obama successfully sold a line to the public that economists will tell you is, at least in part, intellectual snake oil. He managed to blame our historically slow economy almost entirely on President George W. Bush. Polls taken right after the 2012 election showed that one of Mitt Romney’s biggest failures—and the GOP presidential candidate had staked almost everything on this point—was persuading U.S. voters otherwise.

But this week’s dramatic economic news, timed with the start of Obama’s second term, suggests that the political debate, if not the actual economy, is at an important milestone. On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average reached new levels, shooting well above 14,000 and exceeding the closing records set in October 2007 just before the Big Crash. On Friday, a new jobs report finally gave Obama what he's wanted for four years: an unemployment rate that's below where he started as president, 7.7 percent. The Labor Department said nonfarm payrolls vastly outpaced expectations by increasing 236,000 in February, dropping the unemployment rate to the lowest level since December 2008,  from 7.9 percent in January...

No, the U.S. Will Never Turn Into Greece

Have you read the opinion section of any newspaper in the last three years? Yes? Then there is a better-than-even chance you have come across some impressive-sounding analyst predict that the United States is "turning into Greece."

Maybe it's been a while, so we'll recap. The short version of this story is that we'll spend ourselves into bankruptcy. The longer version says that too much public debt makes markets nervous. Nervous markets demand higher interest rates. Higher rates mean higher deficits and lower growth, both of which mean more burdensome debt. More burdensome debt makes markets even more nervous. And around and around we go in a vicious circle into insolvency.

Read the entire story at The Atlantic.

(Image via Santi Rodriguez/