Where to Cut Spending?

Posted: Oct 19, 2010 12:01 AM

In the last two years, spending by the current Congress has increased21.4 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The question thrown in the face of tea party activists and otherconservative Republicans when they talk of cutting spending is, "Where would you cut?"

It's a loaded question, of course, and those who ask it follow it upwith vitriolic assertions that any cuts will mean that children will go hungry, the elderly will be evicted from nursing homes and the federalgovernment will be forced to close, meaning no more Social Securitychecks. This is precisely the approach taken in 1995 when the Clintonadministration set a trap for the new Republican congressional majorityand shut down the government, sending Republicans into a hasty retreat, from which they and their proposed spending cuts never fully recovered.

Everyone knows Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid must be reformed, but Democrats want to maintain control, so they won't do what isnecessary to fix these massive entitlement programs. So, where to cut?

The presumed new Republican majority can begin by paring downnoncontroversial spending that the public will understand and then, after proving the programs aren't necessary or could be better run bythe private sector, move on to more expensive programs.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fl), ranking member on the Committee on Transportationand Infrastructure, has made a start. In a letter to me, Rep. Micaencloses a report by his committee's minority staff with the clevertitle, "Sitting on Our Assets: The Federal Government's Misuse ofTaxpayer-Owned Assets."

Misuse is a word most Americans understand and don't like.

The report identifies "hundreds of billions of dollars in potentialsavings" through "improved management" of what the federal governmentowns. "If implemented," says Rep. Mica, "the opportunities ... have thepotential to save up to approximately $250 billion."

Admittedly, that's not much when the latest deficit projection is $1.294trillion, but we must start somewhere.

The problem is, and always has been, that once government programs andagencies are created, they quickly become sacrosanct and virtuallyimpossible to destroy. As Ronald Reagan said, "Government programs, oncelaunched, never disappear ... a government bureau is the nearest thingto eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" So it doesn't matter thatthe Department of Education doesn't educate, or that the Department ofEnergy doesn't produce energy. It's government and, thus, by definitiongood in the minds of the Washington establishment.

There are quite a number of solid proposals for spending cuts andefficiencies in the minority staff report. These include "Amtrak'ssquandering the potential development of high-speed rail in theNortheast Corridor; The Federal Aviation Administration's management ofair traffic control facilities; utilizing innovative financingalternatives, including well-defined private sector participation, forinfrastructure projects." (Why should the money come only fromgovernment?) There is much more. The entire report is available at republicans.transportation.house.gov.

Additionally, a new House (and possibly Senate) majority ought toembarrass Democrats by exposing the number of government programs thatno longer work (or never achieved their objectives) and then ask for areferendum from the public as to whether they want the money they earnto continue to go for such things. Republicans could also ask theprivate sector to submit proposals for projects it could do lessexpensively and more efficiently than government.

People who elect not to participate in government programs might begiven a tax break. A new emphasis on healthy living (thank you Michelle Obama for emphasizing how overweight we are) would reduce the costs ofhealth care and possibly lower the cost of health insurance, as well asreduce the number of hospital stays.

The public will likely accept these and other cost reductions if theycan see results and if Republicans can persuade them that the cutsthey're making are in the public's interest, and not in the interest ofthe GOP. That's the challenge. Rep. Mica's minority report offers oneanswer to the question "Where would you cut spending?" Get this rightand there will be many others.

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