My colleague at U.S. News, Paul Bedard, reports the House GOP has proposed $2.5 trillion in spending cuts to the 2011 continuing resolution that is funding our government in lieu of a budget. In addition to eliminating funding for healthcare reform, saving $900 million, they're proposing ending federal control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, cutting the federal workforce through attrition by 15 percent, and returning federal spending on everything except defense, homeland security, and vets to 2008 levels. After that, they've got a list of additional specific cuts. If you'd like to take a look at the whole list, here it is. You won't need your morning coffee; it'll get your blood pressure up nicely.
First, the list raises more questions than it answers. Actually, it's the same question over and over, and that is: "What the hell?" For example, "Require collection of unpaid taxes by federal employees; $1 billion savings." If I'm reading that correctly to mean that federal bureaucrats are not paying their taxes to the tune of $1 billion dollars, I'd like to know how someone who doesn't pay their federal income tax is able to keep their federal job in the first place. One way to save money would be not only to collect the unpaid taxes, but then to fire the tax scofflaws. Here's another: "Eliminate duplicative education programs; eliminates 68 at a savings of $1.3 billion annually." Another: "Prohibit taxpayer-funded union activities by federal employees; $1.2 billion in savings over ten years." This is the kind of stuff that drives taxpayers crazy, and they want it fixed yesterday.
Second, people in Peoria would question why the heck they've been paying for some of this stuff in the first place: millions in subsidies for the Washington, D.C., subway; exchange programs between native Alaskans, native Hawaiians, and "their historical trading partners in Massachusetts;" mohair subsidies and "weatherization" grants. The list reveals the depth of special-interest horse trading that's been going on for years here in Washington, and why people are fed up with excessive earmarks. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the economy.]
Other cuts are simply commonsense ideas—things that should have already been done: cuts in the federal travel budget and in new cars for the federal fleet, and new rules encouraging more competitive bidding.
Third, the list shows the willingness of the House GOP to make some difficult cuts, or at least to start a discussion about them. They've raised the question whether the federal government should continue its support for some programs that, to some, seemed reasonably within the federal purview: public railroads and public broadcasting, for example, and foreign aid. But the tide has turned against foreign aid, and maybe against public broadcasting, too. There's also a proposed end to the federal financing of presidential campaigns, which will bring on a great debate, as will ending both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. So will ending the federal role in Fannie and Freddie. I'll give the House GOP points for bravery. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on Democrats.]
Finally, George Will's column today quotes James Q. Wilson, who wrote that until relatively recently, "politics was only about a few things; today it is about nearly everything." In the past, when a new program was proposed, a great debate ensued about whether it was an appropriate area for the government to enter. Not any more. "There has been," Wilson wrote, "a transformation of public expectations about the scope of federal action, one that has put virtually everything on Washington's agenda and left nothing off." He suggests that it is difficult to think "of a human want or difficulty that is not now defined as a 'public policy problem.'"
Nowhere is that more clear than on this list. The "hubris" of Washington, as Will calls it, has put the government in a pickle of over-promising and under-delivering on such a broad array of services, it's unbelievable. The fact that this list spans everything from mohair to Egyptian foreign aid to high-speed rail to family planning to sugar price supports to climate change to doctoral dissertations to rural air service to organic farming ... well, it just goes on and on. [See a roundup of political cartoons on Obama.]
Truth be told, spending cuts like these are not going to get us there—reining in entitlements is what really needs to be done. But what this list says to me is that people who are worried about the size and scope—and the massive spending—of the federal government are not crazy. And they're not any less intelligent or compassionate than the rest of us. In fact, they're right on the money.