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Partisan rancor in Washington seems at its worst point in recent memory. The heated debate surrounding America’s debt ceiling has now been supplanted by arguments over natural disaster assistance and taxes. If this keeps up, we might as well add a third constant to the old pair of death and taxes: political bickering.
Although many politicians will continue to fight among themselves no matter the issue, there is actually a substantial consensus in the watchdog community about where to cut waste in the federal budget. The new congressional super-committee, tasked with finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction by Thanksgiving, has a chance to seize on that consensus and secure the kind of bipartisan support that will be necessary for it to succeed.
As a super-committee member, Massachusetts’ senior Sen. John Kerry has made a request to his constituents for reasonable deficit-reduction suggestions. In response, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group’s (MASSPIRG’s) national office recently partnered with the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) to identify savings of just over $1 trillion.
Going beyond the empty rhetoric of “waste, fraud, and abuse,” the new report, Toward Common Ground, makes more than 50 specific recommendations that touch every corner of the federal budget. That includes defense spending, entitlement programs, bad subsidies, and assorted giveaways to powerful interests. This agreement is notable in itself, given our two groups’ strong disagreements on other recent debates over health care, financial regulation, and stimulus spending.
While PIRG and NTU differ about the proper regulatory scope of government and a host of tax policies, we are united in the belief that we spend far too much money on ineffective and outdated programs that do not serve the best interests of the American people.
By embracing the recommendations in our joint report, the Super Committee would be identifying 80 percent of the deficit reduction it needs to succeed in its mission — and it would do so by plucking the low-hanging fruit off the federal budget.
The report takes aim at handouts finagled through years of relentless insider lobbying, programs that have outlived their usefulness, and gross inefficiencies that have persisted for decades.
Consider that multibillion-dollar agribusiness giants are set to benefit from taxpayer subsidies that will total $50 billion in the coming decade. Taxpayers will spend another $2 billion on promotional assistance to benefit some of our nation’s best-known brands and most prodigious advertisers, including fast food chains and clothing manufacturers. We’ll be on the hook for almost $40 billion in excess spare parts for defense systems, another $17 billion to maintain empty or underused federal buildings, and more than $47 billion from excessive payments to health providers that are out of whack with other areas of the country (even after accounting for legitimate differences in cost of operation).
All of these items cited in our analysis — including redundant military aircraft, antiquated approaches to information technology, poorly administered programs, and more — could, if reformed, yield substantial savings.
It shouldn’t take a deficit crisis to spur congressional action to eliminate special-interest giveaways or improve inefficient or outdated programs. Taxpayers deserve the most “bang for their buck” no matter whether the economy is up or down.
While we hear public officials in Washington talk a lot about getting the waste out of the federal budget, too many believe that gridlock makes it impossible to translate words into deeds. Our report is both a roadmap and reason for hope. America’s current fiscal problems are an opportunity for Mr. Kerry, his fellow super-committee members, and his colleagues in Congress to demonstrate bipartisan cooperation and make sensible reductions to our staggering deficit.
If PIRG and NTU can do it together, they can, too.
Deirdre Cummings is the tax and budget program and legislative director for MASSPIRG, and Andrew Moylan is vice president of government affairs for the National Taxpayers Union.
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