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It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t believe that the federal budget is polluted with wasteful programs and special interest giveaways, rife with payment errors that bleed money from coffers, and programs that are ineffective and no longer meet their mission. The catch is getting people from across the political spectrum to agree on which programs are “wasteful” or “ineffective,” which interests are “special,” and which missions are still worth pursuing (or were ever worth pursuing in the first place).
A couple weeks ago, the co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility & Reform released their draft document that included some initial recommendations for trimming the budget, including a list of $200 billion in illustrative savings. Almost immediately, the report was assailed from all quarters by interests looking to prevent their oxen from being gored.
Less publicized was a recent report by two unlikely allies, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) and the National Taxpayers Union (NTU), which outlined even more ambitious measures that would balance out $600 billion of the federal deficit in the next five years.
The report, Toward Common Ground: Bridging the Political Divide to Reduce Spending, provided a starting point for reforming expenditures by relying on four key concepts:
- Stop give-a-ways of taxpayer dollars to profitable, mature businesses that don’t need them, such as BP, McDonalds and Nabisco.
- Stop paying for programs that are duplicative, wasteful or failing like the National Drug Intelligence Center.
- Stop buying unneeded, unused or unreliable goods and services with taxpayer dollars like nearly $100 billion in unused or unneeded military parts and supplies.
- Make government more accountable and transparent so that money is not lost to costly errors and inefficiencies like overpayments and errant payments.
Among the 30 specific recommendations listed by USPIRG and the NTU are cost savings and revenue enhancements, including:
- $62 billion in savings by eliminating wasteful subsidies to farmers and large corporations, including $22 billion in subsidies each year for large oil companies to blend gasoline with corn-based ethanol. These credits, combined with a production mandate and stiff import tariffs, produce bad fiscal policy that raises costs to taxpayers.
- $354 billion in savings by reforming inefficient contract and acquisition procedures. The bipartisan Panel on Defense Acquisition Reform has suggested financial management and information technology practices, including a system to check bids for commercial goods against past prices to spot unreasonable increases.
- $77 billion in savings by improving the execution of existing government programs as well as eliminating unneeded programs. For example, Medicare’s Graduate Medical Education Program could save $22 billion by re-calibrating payments to cover actual cost.
- $108 billion in savings from ending low-priority or unnecessary weapons systems, along with rightsizing other programs. For example, according to the Government Accountability Office, the V-22 Osprey program has had several scheduling, management, cost and production issues. It has experienced reliability and performance issues and come close to being cancelled several times according to the Sustainable Defense Task Force. Eliminating it could save $6 billion.
It’s doubtful that the final report offered by the president’s Fiscal Commission will ever be enacted as released (when has any commission ever had its recommendations enacted?) but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t low-hanging fruit that’s ripe for picking.
If strange bedfellows like the National Taxpayers Union and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group can agree on $600 billion in cuts, what excuse is there for Congress not to act?
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