The time for denial is over. The Congressional “Super Committee” is already at work with a mandate under law and big cuts are coming. For too long politicians have called for deficit reduction without the political courage to say specifically where the money would come from. Politicians tend to hide behind proposals for across-the-board cuts without actually distinguishing between public priorities and wasteful spending.
Never has there been such a clear reason for people to reach across ideological divides and save the proverbial baby by getting specific about tossing the bathwater. But at this time of poison partisanship and ideological intransigence, what reason is there to hope that Congress can agree on good cuts?
The good news is that some groups from across the ideological spectrum are already laying out the road plan. The Illinois Public Interest Research Group (Illinois PIRG) and the conservative National Taxpayers Union (NTU) are two groups that have stood against each other for decades, including major recent legislation on economic stimulus, health care and Wall Street reform. But the two groups have come together to spell out 54 specific cuts that would save taxpayers over $1 trillion.
The blueprint calls to cut the kinds of spending that make people shake their head and lose confidence in government. For instance:
- $50 billion would be cut from agricultural subsidies that go chiefly to large companies and boost the production of unhealthy additives, worsening the childhood obesity epidemic.
- $60 billion cut from subsidies for producing ethanol, which was originally intended to help the environment but has been shown instead to harm it.
- $1.23 billion from ending payments to clean up abandoned mines where the cleanup is already complete.
Many of the cuts would target giveaways to powerful interests and highly profitable corporations in mature industries that don’t need special help:
- $2 billion in savings would come from eliminating programs that pay large and profitable corporations such as McDonalds and Fruit of the Loom to advertise their wares overseas.
- $21.8 billion would come from trimming subsidies for airports chiefly used by private jets.
Then there’s common-sense savings that have long been resisted by special interests but we can no longer afford to ignore. For instance, the Veterans Administration and Department of Defense should be allowed to purchase prescription drugs jointly, yielding an expected $6.6 billion in savings. Poorly conceived or failed military weapons amounting to hundreds of billions should finally be discontinued when authoritative panels have determined they are not needed.
Unlike across-the-board cuts, these savings can garner wide public support. These are reforms that should be enacted, regardless of the budget situation.
There’s also precedent to think that Congress will adopt these savings. Illinois PIRG and NTU issued similar, though less ambitious recommendations the previous year to the bipartisan fiscal commission. When the commission chairs and their majority announced their recommendations, twenty of the thirty Illinois PIRG-NTU recommendations had been adopted.
The choice we face is between bad cuts or good cuts, between machetes or selective surgery. Members of Congress should put away the hatchets and sit themselves along the negotiating table with scalpels and a 54-cut consensus road map.
See the full list of recommendations here.