An his­toric op­por­tu­nity

Imperial Valley Press - - OPINION - CAL THOMAS Read­ers may email Cal Thomas at tcaed­i­tors@tribpub.com

“No gov­ern­ment ever vol­un­tar­ily re­duces it­self in size. Gov­ern­ment pro­grams, once launched, never dis­ap­pear. Ac­tu­ally, a gov­ern­ment bureau is the near­est thing to eter­nal life we’ll ever see on this earth!” — Ron­ald Rea­gan

Pres­i­dent Trump presents his first bud­get to Congress to­day (Thurs­day). It is, as The Washington Post points out, “his­toric” be­cause if adopted it would be the big­gest con­trac­tion in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment since the end of World War II. Pre­dictably, a Post story fo­cuses on the num­ber of fed­eral work­ers it es­ti­mates could lose their jobs, rather than on whether those jobs and the pro­grams as­so­ci­ated with them are nec­es­sary.

The big­gest driv­ers of debt re­main en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams and true to his cam­paign promise, the pres­i­dent is not touch­ing those, at least for now. His chal­lenge will be to ask Congress to elim­i­nate failed pro­grams, be­cause too many mem­bers rely on cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions from lob­by­ists with an in­ter­est in main­tain­ing the sta­tus quo.

Some fed­eral agen­cies have long prac­ticed a pol­icy of telling em­ploy­ees to find ways to spend left­over money at the end of a fis­cal year for fear their bud­gets might be re­duced. The prac­tice is a con­tribut­ing fac­tor to gov­ern­ment’s seem­ingly un­stop­pable growth.

While most pro­pos­als for cut­ting the size and cost of gov­ern­ment tinker with spend­ing at the edges while ig­nor­ing the main driv­ers of debt, a be­gin­ning can be made. If Repub­li­cans start with failed pro­grams and present them as fail­ures that waste tax­payer money, the pub­lic might come to trust them when it comes to the big­ger things.

Pa­trick Louis Knud­sen, a con­sul­tant and vis­it­ing fel­low at The Her­itage Foun­da­tion, a con­ser­va­tive think tank based in Washington, D.C., has au­thored a plan he says can save $42 bil­lion just by elim­i­nat­ing bad gov­ern­ment pro­grams and ini­ti­at­ing spend­ing re­duc­tions in oth­ers that may still serve nec­es­sary func­tions.

Knud­sen’s rec­om­men­da­tions, made in 2013, do not take into ac­count pro­jected sav­ings from changes in Oba­macare, but they are a good be­gin­ning. Many pro­grams could be man­aged as well, or bet­ter and at lower costs, by the pri­vate sec­tor.

The U.S. gov­ern­ment, notes Knud­sen, con­trib­utes money to many in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions, which could eas­ily be fi­nanced by pri­vate cap­i­tal, if any­one is in­ter­ested in them. Th­ese in­clude the In­ter­na­tional Cof­fee Or­ga­ni­za­tion, The In­ter­na­tional Cop­per Study Group, The In­ter­na­tional Cot­ton Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, the In­ter­na­tional Grains Coun­cil, and my per­sonal fa­vorite, the In­ter­na­tional Lead and Zinc Study Group.

There are 18 En­ergy Depart­ment pro­grams Knud­sen says could be turned over to the pri­vate sec­tor.

Fa­mil­iar tar­gets in­clude pri­va­tiz­ing Am­trak and elim­i­nat­ing all sub­si­dies for the Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing Ser­vice, which once served a valu­able cul­tural pur­pose, but is, to­day, in an age of mul­ti­ple TV choices, as out­dated as a VHS tape.

Space pre­cludes nam­ing more pro­grams that could be cut, but visit her­itage.org and search for Knud­sen’s re­port which lists them all.

Cut­ting the size and cost of gov­ern­ment is doable if the re­duc­tions are prop­erly and skill­fully pre­sented to the pub­lic. Pre­dictably, Democrats will howl about starv­ing chil­dren be­cause they al­ways do, even when Repub­li­can pro­pos­als merely tar­get the rate of spend­ing in­creases with­out ever get­ting to real cuts.

Is there enough of our Pu­ri­tan DNA left to elim­i­nate waste? We’re about to find out. If a gov­ern­ment headed by Repub­li­cans can’t, or won’t, live up to their phi­los­o­phy of smaller gov­ern­ment and more per­sonal free­dom, why do we need them? If un­nec­es­sary spend­ing and needed en­ti­tle­ment re­forms are not ac­com­plished by Repub­li­cans, the spend­ing will con­tinue and the debt will grow un­til the in­evitable eco­nomic col­lapse.

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