Following his blistering critique in last week’s debate in Iowa, former House speaker Newt Gingrich still thinks the newly established deficit “supercommittee” is one of the worst ideas ever conceived in Washington. In a speech at the Heritage Foundation today, the embattled presidential candidate put forward a host of ideas that he believes will yield far better results. “I’m going to say things that are very bold,” Gingrich warned the audience at the onset. “Boldness is sometimes exactly what we need.”
Indeed, Gingrich went after what he described as Washington’s “intellectual” deficiencies, meaning the inability to embrace sweeping changes that are desperately needed. In particular, he wants the federal government to adopt the waste-cutting “Lean Six Sigma” management philosophy embraced by many of the world’s leading companies, such as IBM.
While doing so would require a lot of intellectual groundwork, not to mention a near-complete overhaul of the federal workforce to maximize flexibility and productivity, Gingrich cited proponents’ estimates that properly implementing a Lean Six Sigma approach to the federal government could save up to $500 billion per year, or close to $5 trillion over ten years. That would be far greater than the $1.5 trillion (over ten years) that the supercommittee will be asked to come up with over the next several months. Even if those estimates are off by half, Gingrich pointed out, it would still be a far more effective approach than letting 12 members of Congress rehash stale ideological arguments over taxes and entitlements.
“An intelligent Congress in a city that wanted to be intelligent would hold hearings, bring in the experts, figure out how to fundamentally change the government,” Gingrich said, noting that he will be hosting a conference call later this week with other Six Sigma devotees to get more input on how to effectively reform government.
As for the supercommitee, he called it a “truly bad idea” that embodies everything that is wrong with the culture in Washington. In particular, he decried the built-in fallback trigger, which calls for $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, evenly divided between the defense and discretionary budgets, as “disgusting.”
“When Congress has to attach a suicide mechanism in order to pass something, you have a total breakdown of the legislative process,” he said, comparing it to a question of: “Cut off your right leg or shoot you in the head, which do you prefer?”
And it is no way to go about trimming the federal budget. “If we’re wasting $500 billion in defense, let’s find it and cut it out,” the former speaker said. “If we’re not wasting, how are we going to cut it?”
Gingrich presented a set of numbers to illustrate what he views as the sheer ridiculousness of the supercommittee. Congress has 117 committees and subcommittees, yet only one newly created committee is going to be focused on solving the debt crisis. Congress has 535 members, yet only 12 will be on that committee. “What are the other 523 going to do?” Gingrich said. “It’s an excuse to do nothing [while] 12 people spend the next three months fighting.”
House Republicans, he suggests, should refuse to go along with it, and “focus on legislating rather negotiating.” Better to pass hundreds of small bills through the normal legislative process. He said Congress should set a goal to pass a significant number of specific reforms that will end up saving more than the supercommittee’s $1.5 trillion target by early November and $3 trillion by Christmas.
They should start, he said, by passing a bill proposed by two Democrats — Sens. Mark Warner (Va.) and Jim Webb (Va.) — that would expand offshore drilling opportunities. The GOP in general should not be afraid to embrace Democratic ideas, he said, provided they are good ideas. He would like lawmakers to be more inclined to say “yes, if . . .” rather than “no, because . . .” when it comes to compromising with the other side to get results.
Gingrich also discussed some of President Obama’s recent proposals, such as extending the payroll tax holiday as well as unemployment insurance benefits. Despite GOP objections to extending either measure, the former speaker said it would “very hard” for members of his party not to extend the payroll tax holiday, given the state of the economy. “I think they have to look at it as a serious challenge not to extend it,” he said. As for unemployment insurance, Gingrich compared it to the debate over welfare reform in the 1990s. Republicans, he said, wont that debate by successfully making the case to the public that “giving people money to do nothing is bad.” As on any issue, real leadership is about transcending the ideological confines of the Beltway. “You lead Washington by leading America,” he said. “You don’t lead America by leading Washington.”