In the 1993 movie "Dave" the faux president (played by Kevin Kline) calls in his best friend (played by Charles Grodin) and they stay up all night balancing the federal budget, not by raising taxes, but by cutting unnecessary and wasteful spending.
If only it were that easy.
Most presidents have talked about cutting spending, but few succeed because Congress holds the power of the purse and is reluctant to give it up.
There have been serious and not so serious attempts to reduce government spending, from Ronald Reagan's Grace Commission to something called OMB Circular A-76, a memo from the Office of Management and Budget to all federal agencies that has been around in one form or another over several administrations. A-76's 2003 revision calls for the identification of "all activities performed by government personnel as either commercial or inherently governmental."
To borrow a song from the musical, "Annie Get Your Gun," commercial ventures should look at government and say about many of its functions, "Anything you can do, I can do better" and then they should be allowed to do it.
The model for this could be the government of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. During her time in office, she privatized many industries and utilities previously owned by the government because she believed, correctly, that the private economy could do a better and less expensive job of running them. Her philosophy, mostly absent from the film "The Iron Lady," was: "We should not expect the state to appear in the guise of an extravagant good fairy at every christening, a loquacious companion at every stage of life's journey, and the unknown mourner at every funeral."
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney could follow her example by challenging the country to look deep inside its Puritan DNA and rediscover the principle of what might be called the three L's: limited government, liberty, and living within our means. Give 'em "L," Mitt!
Here's what Romney should do and it might be the strategy that could work to force even a Republican Congress to obey what the Constitution and common sense require. If elected, Romney should pledge to bring in a team of outside auditors and private entities to determine what government ought to be doing and what it might outsource. If a private company can perform a government function with greater efficiency and at lower cost, let it. If a government agency is redundant or no longer necessary, eliminate it.
No "interest group" should be able to exercise more influence than that of taxpaying citizens.
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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