A Winning Agenda

Like many other people, I was underwhelmed by the recently released Republican “Pledge to America.” Longwinded, wishy-washy, and mostly tinkering on the edges.

I am not a member of the Republican Party (or any other party), and I am indeed one of those who fails to much difference of substance between the two major parties—at least on fiscal issues. There are differences on social issues, but, as I have argued before, those issues pale in importance to the fiscal reckoning that looms before us.

I am not alone in thinking this. In fact, I believe this cluster of fiscal concerns constitutes the core of what animates the Tea Party. It is what explains why they oppose some candidates, including some Republicans, and why they favor others, including some independents. Their surging influence gives me some hope that we might finally address this issue, and it is why I welcome their contribution.

But I am not here to defend the Tea Party qua party either. I want us to get our fiscal house in order—now. To that end, I humbly offer what I believe would be a winning, and indeed inspiring, agenda for an ambitious group of politicians.

Call it “The Principles of American Renewal”:

1. No new taxes of any kind.

2. No new spending of any kind.

3. An immediate, across-the-board 5% reduction in the budgets of every department, agency, bureau, institute, and program currently operated under the auspices of the federal government. That includes both “discretionary” spending and “mandatory” spending budget items.

4. Do the same next year, and then freeze all spending levels there unless a super-majority of both houses of Congress approves otherwise.

That’s it. It’s not much, but I think it has considerable virtues.

First, it does not require us to argue about which agencies, offices, etc. should be cut and which should not—cut them all, with proportionate equality.

Second, no one can claim, at least not credibly, that there is not at least 9.75% of fat (what two years of 5% cuts amount to) to cut in every single line of budget in the federal government.

The 2010 federal budget (October 2009–September 2010) entails spending $3.55 trillion dollars. So this policy would entail a 2011 budget of approximately $3.37 trillion, and a 2012 budget of approximately $3.20 trillion—a savings, after two years, of some $350 billion, bringing federal spending down to what it was all the way back in . . . 2008. Is anyone willing to claim that the federal government was just not spending enough in 2008?

Third, if Daniel Mitchell is correct (H/T Roger Ream), a policy like this would rapidly balance the annual budget, and it would be a good first step toward addressing our longer-term national debt.

Fourth, there are many, many households and business who have had to make similar adjustments. Many of them indeed have gone completely under and wish they only had to make a 9.75% adjustment over two years. So this pledge could enable its supporters to claim that they understand our economic difficulties and are willing to do their part.

There would be some obstacles, of course. This policy would require reform in some entitlement regulations, and special-interest groups would complain about their funding decreasing. But politicians could insulate themselves from the worst of the complaints by claiming, truthfully, that their hands are tied by the need for across-the-board reductions; no one is being singled out for special treatment.

A pledge to support a program like that, backed up with, perhaps, a promise to resign if a candidate voted otherwise, would, I preduct, be a winning one. If enough people got elected on it, it might also actually do some good in Washington, making it a win for the rest of us as well.

8 thoughts on “A Winning Agenda

  1. oh, for heaven’s sake. In the first place, starting your list of principals for getting our fiscal house in order with “no new taxes” just destroys your credibility. Either getting our fiscal house in order is your top priority or not raising taxes is, but they can’t both be. In the second place, no new spending of any kind is simply ridiculous. If a hurricane hits Mobile, is the Federal Government not going to do anything because it requires “new spending?” Thirdly, the idea that an across the board cut will not lead to any disagreements is absurd–there will still be arguments about where each program should be cut. And for that matter, your program freezes in place federal agencies that should be eliminated entirely.

  2. Bill, you’re such a sourpuss!

    Take a look at that Daniel Mitchell piece. It is indeed possible both not to raise taxes and to reduce the deficit. It assumes there would be economic growth, but you don’t need much. And, of course, you have to not raise spending; hence plank #2.

    Second, the point about not raising spending implies that there is already plenty of funds to handle everything the federal government could reasonably be required to do—and then some. (I thought that was obvious, but perhaps I should have specified.) FEMA’s budget, for example, is about $6 billion, which can take care a lot of hurricane damage. And of course that is only one of the dozens of agencies already charged with helping with disasters. It also does not include the quasi-government agencies (like the Red Cross), nor, of course private insurance, corporate liability (see BP), etc. Managed even remotely reasonably, there is more than enough to handle almost any eventuality.

    Third, I acknowledge that there will still be special-interest complaining. My suggestion is that it might have less bite since everyone’s getting cut. And yes of course there are agencies that should be cut altogether, but, since that never happens (and you probably will not, alas, be made king anytime soon), my suggestion was meant to be merely one step in the right direction.

  3. So which is your top priority, budget balancing or not raising taxes? And you clearly need a definition of what “no new spending” actually means.

  4. Continuing to raise taxes reduces the likelihood of economic growth. Perhaps you’ve heard of Europe. If we’re going to get out from under our debt and avoid economic collapse, we have to restrain spending and grow the economy. To the extent that raising taxes inhibits growth of the economy, it is counterproductive.

    As to “no new spending,” what I mean is not increasing the overall levels of federal expenditures. Again, I thought that was obvious.

  5. Across the board cuts keep the departments, agencies, bureaus, institutes, and programs and programs alive, which means they’ll fight back with all their special interest dependents and natural mission creep.

    I’d prefer simply killing off a lot of them, like Head Start, Department of Education, and severely pruning FEMA (most of its budgets are not related to natural disasters), Dept of Energy and others by eliminating much of their statutory authority.

  6. For what it’s worth, I’d be inclined to cast my vote in your direction. Although, I’d personally like to amend #2 to not only freeze spending but reduce it…to decrease the deficit and maybe work towards reducing the national debt. Of course, in a world where both major parties look almost solely at raising/decreasing taxes to help the economy or balance the federal budget – without much concern for spending itself apparently – that’s probably far less politically feasible. Frankly, I’d find it pretty amazing to see any of the planks you listed being carried forth. But that is what hope is for I suppose.

  7. Actually, increasing taxes can encourage a more prudent approach to spending. Tax increases encourage people to be aware that government expenditures actually cost something. If a government is financed by taxes, as all of them are, sometimes taxes will have to go up. (I would particularly encourage tax increases to pay for wars.) As for Europe, Germany seems to be doing pretty well.

  8. “Actually, increasing taxes can encourage a more prudent approach to spending. ”

    Yeah, and getting ripped off by your accountant can encourage you to keep a closer eye on your finances. But that would be a pretty piss-poor defense for urging accountants to rip off their customers – especially in the name of saving the customer money.

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