January 18, 2001

January 18, 2001 | News Releases on Federal Budget

New Heritage Book Details Budget Priorities for President-Elect Bush

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2001-Some federal lawmakers hope a narrowly divided Congress leads President-elect George W. Bush to submit a "status quo" budget that allows spending to climb even higher. But now is the time, with the budget in surplus and an economic slowdown imminent, to impose some much-needed fiscal discipline in Washington, a new Heritage Foundation report says.

Time is short: The president-elect has until Feb. 5-just 16 days after he takes office-to submit his first budget to Congress. And the success of that budget is certain to affect profoundly the rest of his presidency, write budget analysts Angela Antonelli and Peter Sperry in "A Budget for America," a detailed, program-by-program breakdown of budget recommendations.

"Many presidents have found that priorities not addressed during the first budget cycle were never fully considered during the rest of their terms," note the analysts, who co-edited the 435-page guidebook.

The situation calls for nothing less than a complete overhaul of federal spending. President-elect Bush should "steer the elephant," rather than settle for incremental changes, they say, because special circumstances dictate bold actions to solve problems.

Consider what the federal government has done-or failed to do-with the money it has already spent, the analysts say.

"The United States has no effective defense against ballistic missile attack, and its military forces face aging equipment and personnel shortages," they write. "Health care and other programs serving the elderly are out-of-date and on the brink of insolvency. Our public schools still fail to deliver a world-class education. More commuters face increasing gridlock while pork-barrel programs consume millions of transportation dollars."

In short, America must do more with less on a number of fronts. That means serious reform, increased efficiency and focus in government, and a president who effectively embraces his role as "First Evangelist" for his programs.

"Members of the Reagan administration were characterized by an almost evangelical devotion to the principles, programs and policies advocated by President Reagan," Antonelli and Sperry note. "Their commitment left an unmistakable mark on the federal government that is evident more than 12 years after President Reagan left office."

President-elect Bush should take advantage of the budget surplus and reports of an economic slowdown to push hard for his across-the-board tax cut, the analysts say. "The 'overwithholding' that produced the revenue surplus should be returned to families so that they can set their own spending priorities and improve their quality of life," they write.

To save time, the analysts say, President-elect Bush should avoid reinventing the wheel whenever possible. He should ask that Congress reconsider proposals that were designed to improve government efficiency but ignored by President Clinton. And he should establish a group modeled on the highly successful base-closing commission of the early 1990s to help identify programs and agencies that should be eliminated.

Indeed, "it's time to put the "M" back in the Office of Management and Budget," the analysts say. And the president should press for genuine scrutiny of federal agencies, to better assess how they perform and how they spend money.

Moreover, the analysts say, President-elect Bush should start to think about the end of the process even as he begins. He should seek out members of Congress-moderate Democrats such as Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana, among others-who might be willing to help advance his agenda. As for making his case to Congress as a whole and to the American people, he should divulge more rather than less-and sooner rather than later.

But "A Budget for America" presents more than just general strategies. It goes through every department found in the federal budget, identifying specific reforms and showing exactly how much can be saved.

Take the Department of Agriculture's Market Access Program. Created in 1985, it permits agricultural exporters that advertise their own branded products abroad to have up to 50 percent of their foreign ad costs paid by U.S. taxpayers. Cutting off all funding for it would save the government $450 million over five years, the analysts say. Or withholding federal subsidies for Amtrak (cost in FY 2001: $664 million) if it fails to become financially independent by 2002. Or allowing a greater number of private-sector workers to perform routine commercial tasks for the federal government, which could save anywhere from $2 billion to $20 billion.

"A Budget for America" is also a handy reference for any reporter who covers budget issues. It lists the date each government department was created, describes its mission, outlines Heritage's recommendations and their rationale, and includes contact information for department officials. Each program is broken down in detail and lists the Heritage analysts best equipped to answer questions about it.

The book is part of Heritage's "Mandate for Leadership" project, named for the original policy blueprint that The Washington Post said served as the "bible" of the Reagan administration. Antonelli is director of the Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at Heritage, and Sperry is the Grover M. Hermann fellow in federal budgetary affairs in the Roe Institute.

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