The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Put On the Daddy Pants

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


Politico Pro, a Washington D.C.-based policy magazine, recently wrote a piece entitled, “The Sequester’s Slow Burn,” by Darren Samuelsohn.   He starts off by saying, “So the era of sequestration has meant furloughs for more than 800,000 workers and entire agencies are shuttered for days – and those were the easy cuts.  There are nine more years of budget austerity to go and that means the federal government must dig in much tougher places to find savings – like forcing early retirements for workers and winding down grants that fund scientific research and allow states to keep infrastructure up to par.”

My first reaction was: How on earth did our nation survive just a few years ago?  For example in 1999, the end of the Clinton era, revenue into the federal government was at $1.8 trillion and spending amounted to a total of $1.7 trillion.  Our unemployment rate was at 4.2%.  As I recall, the White House was open to visitors, planes stayed in the air, farmers still grew crops, hospitals didn’t close their doors, medical research continued, and the stock market was at an all-time high.

Now our government is bigger than it has ever been with revenues at about $2.8 trillion, spending at about $3.5 trillion, and unemployment at about 7.6%.  (You can find the budget data here and here on the Congressional Budget Office website.)  Clearly massive government spending has not helped our nation.  But, if you listen to politicians and pundits in Washington, you would think the sequester will cause the world to come to an end.  Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is quoted in the Samuelsohn article, saying “At some point, [the sequester] is going to start hurting.  And if you look at local newspapers throughout the country, there are a lot of good programs being cut.  But it’s all too local right now and hasn’t reached a critical mass in the national debate.”

While Samuelsohn provides the usual litany from several people of how bad the sequester will become as time goes on and how vitally important it is that government spending increases, one basic fact is forgotten.  Every dollar that the government has and spends is a dollar that has been taken away from the private sector.  Those private-sector dollars could have been used for a lot of things such as growing more food, conducting medical research, buying a needed household item, expanding a business.  All of these are actions that create more private sector jobs.  What we need is less government spending and interference in our economy.

Keep in mind the sequester lowers discretionary spending by $84 billion in 2013 and about $1.1 trillion over ten years (2014-2021).  That amounts to about $110 billion a year.  The CBO forecasts that spending will still increase over that period of time by an average of $238.6 billion per year.  Furthermore, it also warns that “in later years, however, projected deficits rise steadily, reaching almost 4 percent of GDP in 2023. For the 2014–2023 period, deficits in CBO’s baseline projections total $7.0 trillion. With such deficits, federal debt would remain above 73 percent of GDP – far higher than the 39 percent average seen over the past four decades.”

A debt of 73 percent of GDP is a frightening figure.  It represents bankruptcy and the kind of fiscal situation that causes nations to collapse.  Countries like Greece and Spain have large debt to GDP ratios and are now experiencing economic failure.  The governments in these countries, as well as other countries -- including the United States, have made too many promises to their citizens that cost too much money.

Clearly, doing away with the sequester is not an option.  Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) says as much in the Politico article.  “It’s the only way we can get any kind of restraint on spending.”  Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) echoes the same by saying, “I don’t know that [the sequester] is here for nine more years, but I think it’s likely to be here for the rest of the Obama Administration.  The sooner that the administration deals with that fact and decides there are ways to make it work more smoothly and still maintain the same goals, the better off we’ll be.”  Senator Blunt, a sub-committee chairman on the Senate Appropriations Committee, is looking for ways to allow the federal agencies to have more flexibility in the process.  For the next nine years, the Appropriations Committee will decide where the spending reductions fall within an agency’s budget.

Instead of furloughs, government agencies should reduce staff by attrition.   Instead of closing White House tours to American taxpayers or agencies shutting down, how about cutting wasteful spending?  Fortunately, there are plenty of ideas floating out there where cutbacks can be made and frankly, should be.

To begin, there is CAGW’s Prime Cuts, a compendium of 557 suggested spending cuts from a variety of sources, including the president’s budget, that could save taxpayers $580 billion in the first year and $1.8 trillion over ten years.  The list covers all the Departments within the Executive Branch, plus independent agencies and the Legislative Branch.  For example, CAGW has long advocated for the elimination of the Market Access Program, a corporate welfare program that provides about $200 billion a year to agricultural producers so they can market their product overseas.  I wrote about another egregious government-sponsored market program just a few days ago concerning California Raisins.

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has produced several reports, which can be found here, here, and here that provide hundreds of areas where cuts can be made without harmful sacrifices.

So it is time for Washington to stop the whining about the sequester, put on the daddy pants, and begin to get serious about reducing the size and expense of government.

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