Paul Revere is in his 20s, and is concerned about the impact of the growing national debt on his generation. Not much younger than when his namesake made his historic ride, he works in the wake of a tea party to warn his fellow patriots of impending doom - unless they exercise the courage to act now. He will be posting regularly at ConservativeHome on spending issues to encourage his fellow patriots to find that courage.
Between my low-hanging-fruit proposals for spending cuts, and my mid-term, more aggressive suggestions for additional cuts, I identified several hundred billions of dollars in various reforms and cuts to the annual federal budget. Today I will finish my spending series with my so-called “wish list” of ideas that are a) controversial, and b) ideas that would likely send a politician’s career into a deep, dark hole. Which is, of course, why they need to happen— if eliminating the deficit and gouging into the debt was politically easy, it would have been done already.
I hope you have enjoyed the series, and I welcome your comments and thoughts after reading the following. Enjoy:
Eliminate the Department of Education and the Transportation Security Administration. According to its website, “the Education budget was $63.7 billion in FY 2010, with $96.8 billion in discretionary funding provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.”
The Department of Education was created in January of 1980 by then-President Jimmy Carter. Since its creation America’s educational quality has dropped precipitously; the cost per pupil has skyrocketed; and we have failed to stay ahead of the international curve. In short, to quote Rachel Sheffield of the Heritage Foundation: “This process of taking taxpayer money from states, filtering it through the DOE, and then sending it back to states is inefficient and has done little to boost academic achievement.”
In a global economy such as ours, I could support a Department of Education with a small group of employees. These employees would have one job: create a national test, administer said test and correct said test. That is it. Given the utter failure of the ever-more-expensive Education Department, however, I’d rather err on too-small a federal bureaucracy than too big a one. We can always correct things later, and it’s not as if we would be missing out on any grand successes from the Education Department.
Revamp military contracts entirely, including no more non-competition contracts. Additionally, cut out the middlemen who skim percentages off the top of their contracts before subcontracting to yet another middleman who does the same thing. Our government must improve its accountability to its own citizens. While I don’t necessarily support everything brought up by these Members of Congress, Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) have found $100 billion to cut each year for a decade, and Coburn wrote a devastating paper showing how America is getting less for more with our defense spending in a variety of areas.
Foreign policy hawks strongly and articulately have decried cutting defense spending. However, Secretary Gates’ proposed savings will perhaps save over $20 billion per year – assuming Congress listens to his recommendations for the next five years - and I encourage you to read what Victor Hanson wrote in a November 2010 defense of defense spending:
After all, the United States will spend over $680 billion on defense this year alone — slated to rise to $712 billion next year — and well over $1 trillion when you include defense-related expenses that are not counted in the official Pentagon budget. Depending on how one categorizes the figures, defense spending now represents over 19 percent of the federal budget and is nearing 5 percent of the nation’s GDP. Over the last nine years, the Pentagon’s budget has grown on average by about 9 percent each year, more than triple the rate of inflation — quite apart from the supplementary spending on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
$400 billion of the defense budget is contracted work, and there is no question much of that money is not used effectively. Additionally, Hanson was intellectually honest enough in his defense of military spending to note its exorbitant spike in the last decade. Do foreign policy hawks really think making defense contracting 10% more efficient (which is not the same as the semi-arbitrary cuts proposed by the Deficit Commission) through competition and accountability will actually hurt America’s security or our people in uniform?
While we’re on defense issues, I’ll raise the bigger, thornier issue: our political leaders should seriously consider getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan before 2013. We are spending $100 billion annually on both Iraq and Afghanistan, and yet most Americans cannot articulate what we’re doing there anymore. Some estimates say our spending on these wars will reach as high as $5 trillion over the next few decades. Meanwhile, we help the corrupt Afghani president Hamid Karzai stay in power while he says he would rather work with the Taliban than us. We also ignore Karzai’s brother, the biggest opium dealer in the nation. Additionally, we pretend that sending more troops into Afghanistan consists of a strategy for “victory” instead of a strategy for political survival for the president and many Members of Congress.
I supported entering both nations. The stated goals were laudable and accomplishable. Unfortunately, politicians in both parties have gotten us to a point where “winning” is far too undefined. Is it not responsible to say we should stop what we’re doing and save the money until it’s clear what America is actually trying to achieve?
I know I haven’t dealt with the very real consequences of leaving, which critics would understandably raise, and that this is the least likely of the cuts and reforms I have outlined thus far. Short of leaving, let’s get a strategy that accomplishes goals for the benefit of America and our allies. Instead of babysitting, let’s run a war. Instead of working with Karzai and others like him, let’s work with leaders in Afghanistan and Iraq who actually like freedom and democracy. Otherwise, we are simply wasting too many lives and money.
Eliminate the Transportation Security Administration. The TSA was created after 9/11 but, in the nine-plus years since, has not found a single terrorist or danger to America. This is despite a 60,000-person bureaucracy and nearly $8 billion in cost to the taxpayer. Despite this totality of inefficiency, the agency now has more authorized infringements on the rights of law-abiding Americans than ever before.
America had airline security before 9/11; let’s go back to those security measures and let each airport and airline make up its own security. Remember, a number of the 9/11 terrorists were in custody well before the attack. The failure was not necessarily on the part of a lax airline security program, but perhaps was the fault of letting politics dictate defense and intelligence policies.
All in all, we have a whole lot of illegally, unethically and/or incompetently-spent money in our federal government. Most of what I have outlined over the last week is not radical, and merely requires political courage on the part of both the voters and Members of Congress. When combined with effective Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid reforms, these reforms make a balanced budget by October 2012 easily doable. Additionally, tax reform in the fashion of a flat or Fair tax would help a lot, since our current tax code diminishes economic growth and tax revenue while leaving the IRS intact (which costs taxpayers over $2 billion a year). This “wish list” of cuts and reforms would save at least $200 billion a year over the next few years, and when combined with the savings from my last two posts, the taxpayers could just about balance the budget by 2013 or 2014 even without reforms to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Personally, I am of the opinion that America needs a $500 billion budget cut this year just to begin edging our way towards eliminating the deficit. The measly $100 billion Republicans are sending mixed messages on will not be enough (though, to their credit, the Republican Study Committee has found $2.5 trillion to cut over a decade, and some of its members have sent a letter to the Speaker of the House holding Republicans to cutting at least $100 billion between now and October).
With the CBO estimating our FY 2011 deficit to be just over $1 trillion late last year on the heels of the $1.29 trillion of FY 2010, it is no longer acceptable to take nibbles out of discretionary spending. Instead, the entire budget must be on the table and Congress must tear it apart. Anything less really and truly is a dereliction of duty, and the taxpayers should hold Congress accountable.