The conservative National Taxpayers Union and the liberal Public Interest Research Group have co-published a report (pdf) outlining a program of spending cuts that would reduce the debt by $600 billion before the 2015 date specified by the deficit commission as the target to lower the debt to a sustainable 60 percent of GDP.
The groups list 30 specific programs to be cut, as well as the amount of money each program is projected to cost according to official government sources. The aggregate $600 billion those programs total represents spending that both liberals and conservatives should recognize as useless or even harmful (with the exception of serious defense spending reductions that many hawks would object to). The authors write, “we strongly believe this list represents a consensus that can be reached between political factions that spend a great deal of their time fighting one another. In our estimation, these recommendations reduce spending without significantly degrading the level of services provided to the American taxpayer and without neglecting the federal government’s commitments.”
Unfortunately, the exercise illustrates better than anything else the difficulty of finding “common ground” solutions to the deficit problem. Over one-half of the cuts are cuts to defense spending. Even if all these cuts are justified and would do nothing to lessen the military preparedness of the country, they would still be politically unobtainable. For example, about a quarter of the report’s projected savings come from ending wasteful spending on “obsolete spare parts and supplies” for the armed forces and cancelling the F-35 and F-22 fighters jets. Yet all of those spare parts and supplies and fighters are protected by the iron triangle of defense spending. No one cares as much about shutting down the factory that produces spare parts as much as the people in the factory’s district care about keeping it open. The same goes for the $60 billion or so in subsidies to ethanol and subsidies to agribusiness. Other than ethanol producers like Archers Daniels Midlands and the Midwestern voters (and lobbyists) they employ, no one, left or right, favors ethanol subsidies. Yet they are renewed every time the vote comes up.
The NTU/PIRG is a great demonstration of just how much fat there is in the budget, and politicians, especially Republicans who have trouble naming specific spending cuts, should use it. Unfortunately, despite the bipartisan appeal of the report’s measures, many, if not most, of the cuts are likely politically unattainable. A Republican-only deficit reduction program, such as the Roadmap, might even be more feasible before 2015, despite Democrats’ guaranteed opposition.