A Congressman named Paul Broun has an op-ed in today's New York Times titled "Paul Ryan's Ax Isn't Sharp Enough," and proposing substantial cuts in Federal spending beyond Ryan's budget proposals. Actually, as Broun points out, Ryan's budget doesn't propose net cuts at all, but rather proposes modestly to restrain increases in the level of spending to 3.4% a year. Broun, whose district lies east of Atlanta, is trying to make himself some reputation as a spending hawk. I say bravo! But even his proposals are extremely modest. This discussion need to be fundamentally re-oriented.
Basically, Broun proposes (1) eliminating two Federal departments, Education and Energy. (2) making Medicaid and SCHIP block grants to the states, and (3) repealing Obamacare. Numbers (2) and (3) do not constitute reductions in current spending, but only avoidance of future increases. Education is currently running at about $77 billion per year, Energy only at about $27 billion. The Education budget could well be zeroed out. Energy is a mixed bag. The destructive "green energy" and efficiency programs turn out to be a very small part of the budget -- under $3 billion per year. Most of the budget is involved in defense-related activities, particularly producing and securing atomic weapons. Broun concedes that that's not so easy to get rid of and proposes transferring it to Defense. OK, but that doesn't lead to much spending reduction. We're only up to about $80 billion. The loan guarantees should be wiped out, but of course they are off budget to begin with. I'm looking for cuts of at least $1 trillion!
So come on, Congressman Broun. Let's get a table of Federal departments and agencies and start drawing a line through them. It's not hard:
Agriculture: Proposed 2013 spending is $155 billion. Farm subsidies of $20+ billion per year clearly need to go. The big item is food stamps -- $80 billion per year. Food stamp spending has doubled in Obama's four years, all of which were supposed to be an economic "recovery." It should be an immediate priority to get back to the 26 million recipients of just a few years ago. Where does the other $55 billion go? To lots and lots of stuff the government should not be doing and that almost nobody would miss if it disappeared over night. Here is a list of agencies and offices in the DOA (good acronym). Agricultural Marketing Service, Agricultural Research Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, etc., etc., etc., etc. OK, we need to figure out a way to do food inspection, although I don't see why it has to be the government. The rest is dead loss. There is easily $100 billion per year to be saved in this department.
Housing and Urban Development. The spending by this department is not just wasteful, but actively destructive, acting as a poverty trap for a large portion of the intended beneficiaries. It should all be zeroed out: $27 billion annually for rental subsidies, $13 billion for "community development" grants, $12 billion for housing finance programs, $9 billion for public housing projects. This could start to be some real money!
I'm barely getting started, and already I'm up to $240 billion! How about eliminating all job training programs and "trade adjustment assistance" in the Labor Department (about $8 billion)? Getting rid of the Drug War (about $15 billion per year at the Federal level according to drugsense.org)? I'll bet it's a lot more than that if you count how much of the U.S. Attorneys' offices, the FBI, the Federal courts, and prisons go into this useless effort. NASA is running about $18 billion per year. I can never understand the attachment of otherwise libertarian-oriented people to NASA, which, as a government entity, is way too risk averse to run a high risk program.
Dare anyone ask how the number of recipients of Social Security Disability went from about 3 million in 1990 to over 8.5 million today, just 23 years later? Does the current generation really have three times as many disabled people as the prior generation? By the way, this program is running at $124 billion per year and metastasizing at an accelerating rate. In a remarkable event, mainstream press organs like NPR and the Atlantic have started noticing in just the past few days. Read those two articles and then tell me whether a rational version of the program could not save half of the $124 billion.
I'm not going to make this post into a full-blown new budget for the Federal government, but it's clear that if one is prepared to seriously consider eliminating the wasteful programs, it is not difficult to get the Federal budget to a size commensurate with its revenues. When can we get started?