- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

It is business as usual again in Washington as budget deficits return. Who's going to win the battle over what to do fiscal conservatives or big spenders?
While partisans like Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, greeted the news with their best Claude Raines (Shocked, shocked) the re-emergence of deficits should surprise no one familiar with Congress' chronic failure to reform government spending in the past two decades.
For example, Mr. Conrad hasn't exactly withdrawn his proposed $10 million bailout for bison meat producers; he would rather take money out of Americans' pockets to continue such absurdities.
There's no mystery regarding the source of the current fiscal challenge.
Two forces combined in the 1990s to temporarily reduce deficits the "peace dividend" from reduced post-Cold War defense needs, and astounding economic growth and revenue thrown off by the nascent Information Economy. But now the technology sector's golden goose is on vacation, and the nation requires substantial new spending on defense, intelligence, and homeland security.
So it's time for Congress to do what several states and most in the private sector have already done cut appropriations and redirect wasted resources.
For promoting this common-sense solution, White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels is being undeservedly pilloried by myopic pundits and big spenders on Capitol Hill. The louder the criticism, the more he must be right.
Here are five easy steps to prevent deficits from getting out of control:
(1) First and foremost, Congress must put a lid on new spending. Since the September 11 attacks, more than $300 billion has been proposed in bailouts for Amtrak, the U.S. Postal Service, steel manufacturers, bus companies, travel agents, and the highway lobby. Much is unrelated to real needs in response to terrorism. In addition, Congress is on the verge of passing a bloated $170 billion farm bill that will increase subsidies 65 percent over current levels.
On top of all this, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, now insists on another $20 billion in spending above the $686 billion budget agreed to in October. That figure was $20 billion greater than the original May budget, and does not even include the $40 billion emergency spending bill passed in September.
(2) Put Congress on a pork-free diet. Feeding at the trough has totaled $120 billion since 1991. Last year alone, pork totaled $18.5 billion, including $1.5 million to refurbish the Vulcan Statue in Birmingham, Ala; $648,000 for ornamental fish research; and $550,000 toward a Dr. Seuss Memorial in Springfield, Mass. Coincidentally, the shortfall between what Congress said it could afford and what the administration requested for supplemental Pentagon spending in fiscal 2001 was about $18 billion.
This year, pork is expected to reach $20 billion.
(3) Eliminate corporate subsidies. This would not only reduce Washington meddling in the market, it would save taxpayers more than $80 billion per year. By simply eliminating the Partnership for New Generation Vehicles, Congress could save $55 million next year and $907 million over five years.
PNGV, an Al Gore progeny, hasn't accomplished much according to a recent review according to the National Research Council. Congress could also heed President Bush's advice to eliminate the Export-Import Bank, saving $3.2 billion over five years.
(4) Stop the nearly $20 billion in improper payments. The government has a bad habit of writing checks to the deceased or imprisoned, and providing benefits for others who game and cheat the system. For example, Medicare alone lost around $12 billion this way last year.
(5) Rounding out the top five, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has catalogued 543 recommendations for budget trimming that could save taxpayers $159 billion in fiscal 2002 and $1.27 trillion over the next five years.
There are dozens of programs marbled throughout Washington that are ineffective, outdated, redundant or mismanaged. Exactly how much will it take before members of Congress and media proponents of repealing tax cuts actually propose eliminating just one of these programs?
CAGW recommends President Bush immediately empanel a bipartisan, private-sector waste commission, to attack these issues head-on and force Congress to vote up or down for reform. After all, it may even be beneficial to some patriotic member of Congress who goes home and says: "I found a way to allow you to keep your tax cut, reduce spending, and prevent large future deficits. There will be a delay in that research on wood utilization and shrimp aquaculture for a few years, but I think it's worth it."
Now that deficits have returned and the country is at war, maybe D.C. can get serious about not wasting the people's money.

Tom Schatz is president of Citizens Against Government Waste.

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