House Republicans recently took up President Obama’s challenge to specify the spending cuts they would like to see. Their report wisely proposed slowing the growth of government with discretionary spending caps. But in terms of actual, specific cuts, they came up with only $69 billion over five years — less than $14 billion annually. Thus, House Republicans would spend 99% as much as President Obama this year, and 97% as much as the president over the next five years. In order to avert the $7,000 per-household tax increase the Obama budget would require, Congress should go much further than this document in streamlining spending.
It’s easiest to start with the most blatant waste: $55 billion in annual program overpayments; $25 billion in unused federal property; $17 billion in annual earmarks; $123 billion for programs for which government auditors can find no evidence of success; and $140 billion in potential budget savings identified by the Congressional Budget Office.
They should then move onto large reforms, including:
* Eliminating the $60 billion spent annually on corporate welfare programs.
* Reducing farm subsidies for large and profitable agribusinesses, which actually worsen the farm economy.
* Devolving functions like highways, economic development, education, housing, and anti-poverty programs to state and local governments that are closest to the people. This would eliminate the expensive Washington middleman, and tailoring local programs to local needs (while eliminating failed programs) would surely save tax dollars. Given the unpopularity of Washington, this should be a no-brainer.
* Most importantly, addressing Social Security and Medicare, which would otherwise require a doubling of all current tax rates. A logical place to start would be a progressive indexing of Social Security benefits for upper-income seniors and also stopping over-subsidizing the Medicare B and D premiums for upper-income seniors.
Yes, all spending cut proposals carry some degree of political risk. But conservatives cannot win back their credibility on spending by endorsing 97% to 99% of the Obama spending plan. Out of a $4 trillion budget, there is no shortage of candidates for cuts.
– Brian M. Riedl is Grover M. Hermann fellow in Federal Budgetary at the Heritage Foundation.