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EDITORIAL: Unsheathe the knives

Why cut $85 billion when we could cut $580 billion?

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Barack Obama went to some big towns in his campaigns and gave some big talk. He vowed to go line-by-line through the federal budget to identify and cut waste. The big talk, it turns out, wasn't worth the teleprompter it was printed on. He can't even find the money to run White House tours. The sweet talkin's done, and all we've got are blues in the night.

Mr. Obama had exactly the right idea in 2008 when he said it was important for the president to go about "eliminating those programs we don't need, and insisting that those we do need operate in a sensible, cost-effective way." Citizens Against Government Waste released a report called "Prime Cuts" to help Mr. Obama live up to his word.

The waste-watcher group came up with 557 ways he could save $580 billion in the first year and $1.8 trillion over five years without undermining any fundamental government service. A number of the items on the list are familiar because they've been listed year after year. "The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth," Ronald Reagan observed, "is a government program." Now that we're bogged down in dire straits, the situation should encourage Congress to send these boondoggles to their eternal rest.

America's national debt totals $16.7 trillion, $6 trillion more than it was when Mr. Obama was sworn into office. If outlays proceed at the current pace, there soon won't be enough cash in China to bail us out. Instead of proceeding at this unsustainable pace, it makes sense to drop funding for the Department of Agriculture's Market Access Program, which pays for advertising U.S. products in foreign countries. "Prime Cuts" calls it a "corporate welfare program that funnels millions of dollars to large, profitable corporations." Eliminating it would save taxpayers $1 billion over five years.

Just getting the government to follow its own rules would sometimes save a bundle -- or bundles. Achieving a 50 percent reduction in improper Medicare payments would add up to a five-year savings of $24 billion. Full compliance might be too much to ask. Ending subsidies to Amtrak, which can't make any money running a monopoly, would save $7.1 billion. Clinton-era relics such as AmeriCorps and Community Oriented Policing Services programs would be history, and so would the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities. Alas, no more crucifixes in urine.

Defense gets no undeserved breaks. The would-be budget-cutter recommended elimination of the Medium Extended Air Defense System, a program plagued by cost overruns of nearly $2 billion and now 10 years behind schedule.

Citizens Against Government Waste follows Mr. Reagan's Grace Commission, which was impaneled to find ways to reduce government bloat. The commission's January 1984 report to Congress said, at the time, that its recommendations would save $1.9 trillion annually by the year 2000. If only we had listened. The Democrat-dominated Congress of that time largely ignored the recommendations, and now we're in unprecedented fiscal peril.

Those who fail to learn from history, the philosopher George Santayana (and others) observed, are doomed to repeat it. Once we could afford it. Now we can't.

The Washington Times

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