“The cupboard is bare”, said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi recently in reference to the federal budget crisis. “There’s [sic] no more cuts to make. It’s really important that people understand that.”
It’s tempting to ignore this as more nonsense from a notorious airhead. Unfortunately, it is a widely held notion, especially among the political class. Back in the day, Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay also explained that a balanced budget wasn’t feasible because there were no more possible cuts.
So we’re stuck. Even though we can’t pay our bills as it is, we have no choice but to keep piling on debt and passing it off to future generations while hoping eventually some end-game will magically appear. Right?
Wrong. The federal budget has grown from $1.9 billion in 2001 to $3.8 billion today. It is chock-full of expenditures that are decidedly nonessential and could be cut without much difficulty.
Take the Federal Crop Insurance program. It was created in the 1930s to protect small farmers from being devastated by crop failures. But Ma and Pa toiling away on the family farm is mostly in the past. Instead, the payments go to wealthy conglomerates and landowners like the Rockefellers and Scottie Pippen.
The program costs $9 billion annually and really should be eliminated since crop insurance is commercially available. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, even a 15% reduction in subsidies to farmers with incomes over $750,000 would save $1.2 billion.
Many if not most federal agencies are far from essential. The International Trade Administration subsidizes companies that export goods abroad. In other words, it’s $463 million worth of crony capitalism which we would be better off without. Our trading partners rightly complain of the unfairness these handouts create.
The Office of Energy Efficiency spends nearly $1 billion on “training” and resources for businesses and universities who want to “increase the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.” The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created by the Dodd-Frank Act, burns through $497 million yearly yet is overly intrusive, questionably unconstitutional and vague in its mission.
The Economic Development Administration, also in the business of picking winners and losers, spends $286 million in grants to businesses unable to attract investors in the capital markets. You can guess the results.
There’s more low hanging fruit. The federal government pays $156 million to employees who do nothing but work for their own union. Michelle Obama has a personal staff of over 25 to help her get through her days. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control spends an unknown but significant amount hectoring people about their eating and drinking habits and lobbying local governments to outlaw practices of which they disapprove.
The explosive growth of SNAP (food stamps) and SSDI in the last five years has been well documented. Yet when fiscally conservative legislators recently proposed anti-fraud protections for SSDI and work requirements for able-bodied adults in SNAP, they were branded as mean and even “immoral”.
So in the spirit of compromise could we at least cease funding recruiters for SNAP and “advocates” (lawyers) for SSDI? People who need and deserve help don’t have to be talked into it.
Want bigger fish to fry? The Department of Education spends billions on…what? They don’t educate a single student but they write loads of research papers read by each other. The Department of Energy, like the rooster coaxing the sun to rise, supposedly ensures a grateful nation of its energy supply while the Department of Commerce oversees the disbursement of crony capitalism.
The real money is, of course, in the major entitlements – Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid – which comprise two-thirds of the federal budget. Politicians quail at the thought, but the relatively painless measure of gradually raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 would nearly erase the Social Security deficit in 20 years. How hard could that be?
Nancy Pelosi and her ilk know all of this and more, of course. But they don’t want even painless budget cuts because their power is based on growing government and having as many people as possible dependent on it. We would be foolish to listen to them.
• East Valley resident Tom Patterson is a retired physician and former state senator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.