February 24, 2016

February 24, 2016 | Commentary on Budget and Spending

Time to Budge on the Budget

The year 2016 may well go down in history as the Year of the Fed-Up Voter. On issue after issue, too many of our elected officials refuse to make hard choices. They govern on autopilot, apparently hoping that some rousing speeches at election time will distract us.

Take the federal budget. For years, it’s been ballooning out of control. Government has grown to an unprecedented size and now reaches into virtually every aspect of our lives. It’s on a dangerous financial trajectory that will have serious consequences for all of us.

Americans already pay an enormous amount in taxes to fund government. Yet instead of acting as responsible stewards of these funds, federal lawmakers borrow even more. This excessive spending includes many programs that benefit the well-connected or lock people into low incomes by penalizing hard work. No wonder voters are angry.

The national debt exceeds $19 trillion. Not million. Not billion. Trillion. You could buy more than 575 million new cars (average price: $33,000) with that amount. That’s almost two new cars per person in the entire United States.

And it’s growing all the time. According to the Congressional Budget Office, if the federal budget keeps going at current levels, government will spend another $9.9 trillion more than it will collect over the 2016 to 2026 period.

Note that this $9.9 trillion is the additional overage, not the total amount. We’re burning through so much money that by 2026 the government will spend more to make its interest payments than it will lay out for national defense in that year.

This can’t continue indefinitely. Yet many in Congress act as if it can. That’s why the budget experts at the Heritage Foundation have come up with a budget for fiscal 2017 that slows the growth in spending (without compromising defense), cuts taxes and eliminates numerous budget gimmicks that tilt the playing field against hardworking Americans who play by the rules.

Here are just a few of the many reforms listed in Heritage’s budget:

• Repeal the U.S. Department of Agriculture Catfish Inspection Program. The Food and Drug Administration already regulates domestic and imported seafood, but the 2008 farm bill required the Agriculture Department to get into the catfish-regulation game. There is opposition to this duplicative program on both sides of the aisle. Cut it and save $14 million.

• Eliminate spending on public relations. Prohibit all federal agencies from spending taxpayer money to promote their images. This would save $262 million.

• Cut funding for non-combat Defense Department research. The Defense Department shouldn’t be spending money delving into areas that have no military application, such as research into various types of cancer or finding ways to promote interest in math and science education. This would save $335 million.

• Eliminate five corporate welfare programs. Businesses shouldn’t receive taxpayer subsidies, and corporate welfare for the politically well-connected should end. Eliminate programs such as the International Trade Administration, the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and three others, and we can save $910 million.

• End all energy subsidies. An energy sector based on free enterprise will benefit consumers by delivering reliable, affordable energy. Let’s get rid of government favoritism to special interests in the energy industry. Serious savings await: more than $28 billion.

It’s important, too, to remember why all this matters. It’s not just about getting spending under control, as important as that is. As the Heritage experts note, “a budget should also illustrate a commitment to individual rights, as well as to economic freedom and prosperity.” As President Reagan said in 1981:

“We’re not cutting the budget simply for the sake of sounder financial management. This is only a first step toward returning power to the states and communities, only a first step in reordering the relationship between citizen and government. We can make government again responsive to the people by cutting its size and scope and thereby ensuring that its legitimate functions are performed efficiently and justly.”

What a contrast to how government functions now. No wonder voters are fed up. Lawmakers, want to show you’re listening? Some tough calls on the budget are a good place to start.

  - Ed Feulner is founder of the Heritage Foundation

  - This piece originally appeared in The Washington Times

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office

Related Issues: Budget and Spending

Originally distributed by the Washington Times