A path to fiscal sanity

A path to fiscal sanity
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It is long past time to reject the misguided narrative that the federal government is tormented by few options to control spending or balance the budget. Before President Trump and Congress face another fiscal cliff in December, lawmakers must act on the unique opportunities that can set the United States on a path to fiscal sanity.

The national debt nearly doubled under former President Obama and now exceeds $20 trillion. To help Washington dig out of this calamitous economic hole, Citizens Against Government Waste today released its annual edition of “Prime Cuts,” a compilation of 607 recommendations that would save American taxpayers more than $336 billion within one year and $2.3 trillion over five years.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the fiscal 2017 budget deficit will be $693 billion. If all the “Prime Cuts” recommendations were adopted, a balanced budget could be achieved within three years. Since Citizens Against Government Waste’s inception in 1984, its recommendations in action have helped save taxpayers $1.8 trillion.

This year’s “Prime Cuts” addresses every area of government spending. For example, the report proposes eliminating the Market Access Program, which aims to help agricultural producers promote U.S. products overseas. However, it is really a corporate welfare program that funnels millions of dollars to large and profitable corporations and trade associations that can well afford to pay for their own ads. Eliminating this program would save taxpayers nearly $1 billion over five years.

The recommendations also include proposals to eliminate the sugar, dairy and peanut programs, which would collectively save $1.5 billion in one year. Suspending federal land purchases would save $466 million in the first year. A repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act would save $512 million in one year. Reducing improper Medicare payments by 50 percent and increasing the use of software asset management tools would also save taxpayers billions of dollars.

Many “Prime Cuts” recommendations, like cutting funds for Community Development Block Grants, have bipartisan support. President Obama recommended reducing funding for the grants because the demonstration of outcomes is “difficult to measure and evaluate.” President Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget would eliminate the grants altogether, saving $3.2 billion in one year.

Numerous cuts could be made to the Department of Defense without jeopardizing national security, like eliminating the $500 million earmark for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program in fiscal 2017. The F-35 is currently $170 billion over budget and is on pace to become the most expensive weapon system in history, including an estimated lifetime cost of $1 trillion for operation and maintenance.

The Pentagon could also be more effective without spending money on alternative energy research. Congress has earmarked nearly $290 million for such research since fiscal 2004, including $10 million in fiscal 2017. Top military brass is on board with cost savings. In 2013, Navy Vice Admiral David Dunaway said, “In the face of decreasing budgets, rapidly evolving threats and a shift in national defense strategy that demands more than ever from our naval forces, it’s imperative that every dollar spent increase warfighting capability.”

Indeed, a 2016 Washington Post article by Craig Whitlock and Bob Woodward revealed that the Pentagon buried a Defense Business Board report that identified $125 billion in potential savings from cutting its bloated bureaucracy. The savings did not require layoffs of civilian or military personnel. Rather, they could be achieved through attrition and early retirements, procurement reform and improved use of information technology. These are the same recommendations that have been included in “Prime Cuts” since it was first published in 1993.

By following the blueprint provided by this year’s “Prime Cuts,” President Trump can make good on the promise he made last fall at a speech to the Urban League in Philadelphia: “I will ask that savings be accomplished through common sense reforms that eliminate government waste and budget gimmicks.” The only way to put the United States on a path toward fiscal sanity is for the nation’s leaders to make bold decisions to reduce wasteful spending. “Prime Cuts” is an invaluable resource in that process.

Thomas A. Schatz is president of Citizens Against Government Waste.