The Republicans promise less intrusive, less expensive government. But will they deliver? In the past, they have said they would shrink the state, but then they came into power and spent more. Consider George W. Bush's eight horrendous years: The budget grew 89 percent -- from $1.86 trillion to $3.52 trillion.
Two Republican House members, Scott Garrett of New Jersey, No. 2 on the budget committee, and Bill Huizenga, a freshman from Michigan, say that they really mean to cut.
"I sure plan to," Garrett said.
I asked him to name three things he'd cut.
He paused for a beat, then said, "We spend about a million dollars for mohair subsidies. We need to eliminate that." We sure do. The subsidies were created to make sure America had enough mohair for soldiers' uniforms during World War I. Yet even though uniforms are no longer made of mohair, my former colleague Sam Donaldson collected subsidies because he once raised sheep and goats on his New Mexico ranch. All farm subsidies are a disgusting scam. Get rid of them.
But the mohair scam is a million bucks. It's nothing.
"So let's go up larger then," said Garrett. "How about foreign aid? (C)ut that out, and you would save around $1.3 billion. Right now, we basically pay federal employees ... who are parts of a union to engage in union activity. How about eliminating those dollars? ... (S)ave about $1.2 billion.
"We have come up with a list of over some $2 trillion."
The ones Garrett named, however, are less than 1 percent of $2 trillion. I understand their reluctance to mention the big stuff, given the political opposition, but when will politicians bite that bullet? They need to!
I'm glad the House leadership has talked about cutting spending back to 2008 budget levels. Garrett said: "Some of us would say let's roll it back even further -- to '07 or '06 levels."
Why not? Why not cut back to the first Bush budget, in 2002, before his spending orgy? I never got a clear answer to that. "Let's figure out what constitutionally we must be doing and where we have started coloring way outside the lines," Huizenga suggested. "Two, are (programs) being effective? ... If they are, fund them. If they're not, let's de-fund them."
The Republicans' promised spending cuts are directed at "nondefense discretionary" spending. Fine. Cut that. But "nondefense discretionary" spending is just 15 percent of the budget. The Republicans' pledge leaves out the big stuff: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and what the government calls defense. That's where the big money is.
"Exactly," Garrett said. You could eliminate all nondefense discretionary spending, and you wouldn't solve the problem. You have to go a lot further than that, and that's why we have to touch those other areas."
I pointed out that I don't hear much talk about that.
"Some of us talk about it. You have to touch on each one of these areas and until the American public is cognizant ... that we have to have shared sacrifice."
As a way to get the public involved, Majority Leader Eric Cantor set up "YouCut" back in May -- "a first-of-its-kind project ... designed to defeat the permissive culture of runaway spending in Congress. It allows you to vote, both online and on your cell phone, on spending cuts that you want to see the House enact. Each week, we will take the winning item and offer it to the full House for an up-or-down vote."
People voted to eliminate things like federal pay raises and subsidies for Amtrak sleeper cars. But with the House under Democratic control, none of those programs was cut. We'll see if things are different now.
"We'll be able to make those cuts," Garrett said.
I hope so. I wish they'd pass what I call the Stossel Rule: For every new law, Congress has to repeal two old ones.
America is on a path to bankruptcy. It's easy to get bogged down arguing about lots of small cuts, but we'll only make progress by abolishing whole departments and entire missions. I hope the public understands it has to be done.