The co-chairs of President Obama's Debt and Deficit Commission painted a gloomy picture of the economy last weekend when they appeared at the closing session of the National Governors Association meeting in Boston. Former Wyoming Republican Senator Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, former White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton, called the current budgetary trends a cancer "that will destroy the country from within" unless checked by tough action in Washington.
So the place that gave us the problem is now going to provide the solution? I have as much faith in Washington curing its overspending as I do a bartender helping an alcoholic swear off drinking.
Cancer is the wrong diagnosis. With the exception of those who are heavy smokers, most cancer patients get the disease through no fault of their own. The proper diagnosis of what ails Washington and too many Americans is addiction. Congress is addicted to spending and they have "hooked" too many Americans on their bad habit.
Conservatives fear the debt commission will be a cover for raising taxes after minimal spending cuts. Thankfully, several of the nation's governors are demonstrating a much better approach to overspending and overtaxing.
New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie wants to privatize state parks, psychiatric hospitals and turnpike tollbooths as part of a major reconsideration of what government should and should not do. The recommendations are part of a 57-page proposal on privatization ordered by the governor and obtained by the Newark Star-Ledger. Under the proposal, pre-school classrooms would be shifted to private hands; state employees would start paying to park and private vendors would serve food, deliver health care and run education programs in state prisons. Estimated savings: $210 million.
The rule should be that if you can find a product or service in the Yellow Pages, see if the private sector can do the job government has been doing at lower cost and higher efficiency. Doesn't that make more sense than the state doing a job at greater cost with less efficiency?
In Indiana, Republican Governor Mitch Daniels has provided a test case for government doing less while lowering costs. Daniels hasn't raised taxes and has cut spending, maintained quality government services and created a budget surplus.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Indiana "is one of ten states that has seen its unemployment rate go down in the past year." In addition to its budget surplus, Indiana has a triple-A bond rating. Even property and state payroll taxes have been reduced. And "for the first time since the 1970s, more people are moving to Indiana than leaving."
In Virginia, Governor Bob McDonnell has been busy. In office for only six months, the governor's office announced that McDonnell has "defeated former governor Tim Kaine's proposed $2 billion increase in the state income tax, kept existing car tax relief in place and brought Democrats and Republicans together to close the shortfall through spending reductions, and without a single tax increase." According to government figures, Virginia's state budget ended the 2010 fiscal year on June 30 with a surplus of about $220 million, which is an amazing turnaround in half a year.
Republicans are on the cusp of a political transformation -- in Congress and in state legislatures -- that potentially could rival their 1994 victory. Former Clinton pollster Dick Morris flatly predicts Republicans will capture both houses of Congress. If they do, they should conduct town hall meetings in every state, asking what government programs people would be willing to give up and then hold hearings where heads of all federal agencies are asked to justify the continued existence of those programs.
Diets can be painful and liposuction uncomfortable. Just as we must sometimes suffer to improve our physical health, so must we put big government on a diet and make sure it never again becomes obese. This should not be a partisan issue, but if Democrats make it one, then a new Republican majority should do what it failed to do the last time it controlled Congress: break our big government addiction and restore the liberty that we've lost.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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