It's the Waste, Stupid!
Conservatives are forgetting their most important lever: Voters logically must support raising taxes if they believe that every dollar of Federal spending is needed. But if some spending is unnecessary, cutting spending is correct. America is divided by assumptions about whether the Federal budget includes a lot of lard or is completely necessary.
Conservatives need to return to what built the conservative movement, to return to what works. We need to stop talking as if helping rich people become richer is our main priority. Despite years of effort in the past, conservatives must now explain all over again to today's generation of voters how their tax dollars are being thrown away.
Could we save money without harming anyone? Recently, news broke once again -- this time in New York State -- about welfare program debit cards being used in ATM machines at strip clubs, bars, liquor stores, porn video shops, hookah parlors, and tobacco shops. There are two problems: welfare cash is being spent for optional extras, not survival. Also, ATM fees cost the welfare program millions of dollars per year for the cash advances. This is not an insult to those who need help. This is a "to do" list for improvements to do a better job.
Promoters of more spending are implying -- to hoodwink low information voters -- that every penny Washington spends is necessary and well spent. If we cut necessary spending, then people will starve and America will fall apart. Bridges will collapse. Our food will be poisoned. Planes will fall out of the sky. Public schools will be boarded up. Liberals are bankrupting the nation based on the lie that spending cannot be cut without harm.
Examples are easy to find. Every year, Citizens Against Government Waste releases "The Pig Book" -- a list of absurdly unnecessary spending in the Federal budget. Since 1993, CAGW has published "Prime Cuts" -- a precise list of cuts that won't be missed. CAGW has already identified easy savings of $391 billion per year, $1.7 trillion over five years.
If Speaker John Boehner were serious, he would call an up-or-down vote on the outrageous examples already identified for Congress. How hard is that? Many of CAGW's recommendations won't please everyone, but CAGW is certainly not the only organization one can look to. CAGW should also organize "Former Government Employees Against Government Waste" to tell the public what is really going on inside the bureaucracy.
Ask our voters: should the government spend $1.7 billion a year on empty buildings? The Office of Management and Budget estimates that 55,000 properties are underutilized or entirely vacant. Maintenance on those properties costs taxpayers $1.7 billion annually. Selling unnecessary Federal property could raise $15 billion. The Federal Government owns 900,000 buildings and structures. Note that there is already a process for other agencies to call "dibs" on any building or property they can use. So this involves property no one needs. Note that "under-utilized" sometimes mean doing something with a building simply because it is sitting there empty, but it would not be missed if it were sold.
We need to ask voters if they want to help huge and rich corporations advertise overseas by borrowing $200 million a year of our children's money. Congress could stop corporate welfare under the Market Access Program, saving $1 billion over five years. Congress could save $1.2 billion over five years by selling the Southeastern Power Administration, which runs 23 hydro-electric projects, just like other private companies do.
Should the U.S. Government spend $2.3 billion to buy even more land over the next five years? The federal government currently owns roughly one-third of all U.S. land, including more than 80 percent of Nevada and Alaska and more than half of Idaho, Oregon, and Utah. The National Park Service already has a backlog of maintenance tasks totaling $5 billion.
According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), fraudulent or improper payments in Medicare amounted to $47.9 billion in 2010. Recommendations to fix this from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Inspector General and a March 2011 Government Accountability Office report have still not been implemented.
Should we borrow $8.8 billion per year from China for this? "The Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was established in 1935 to bring electricity to America's rural communities." That job is done, but in any event REA could easily be performed by a private company.
When I was in the Federal bureaucracy, fellow employees fumed that they could buy better computers for far less personally than the U.S. Department of Education was paying supposedly at bulk, negotiated prices. The General Services Administration should publish what it is paying even after a supply contract goes live. There should be a challenge procedure established by law for competing offers. (Part of the problem is that selling to the government is very difficult, so many potential vendors shy away.)
"Why are you charging so much for paint?" asked one Air Force unit while implementing Total Quality Management (TQM). "We make special custom batches of really bad paint to meet your obsolete specifications," the paint vendor explained. This example was formally presented in a government-wide TQM conference I worked in. So the Air Force upgraded its technical criteria to industry standards and saved money. (This was obviously for painting ordinary things like buildings.)
A sailor's family mentioned privately that the U.S. Navy pays $1 million each time an air craft carrier transits Egypt's Suez Canal. Meanwhile, Egypt receives billions of dollars of foreign aid. If true, I think I have an idea for cutting spending. Congress might verify that.
We need to make voters understand -- once again -- that government is chronically broken. Astonishingly, it took a solid year for the U.S. Department of Education to edit a memorandum... on improving productivity and efficiency! Ellory Pollock, a coworker in our Management Improvement Service, wrote a draft memorandum for signature by the Assistant Secretary for Management (later Under Secretary) explained the president's orders. The draft went up and down the chain of command with red-pen edits for a solid year.
Ronald Reagan had ordered all departments to implement the Productivity Improvement Program (PIP). They never did... Obeying the president is an optional thing in the government. So Ellory was given responsibility as the point person to shepherd this presidential directive throughout the department. Note that there was no discretion to redesign OMB's program. Yet even a directive on being more productive took a solid year in the bureaucracy.
Our nation will face bankruptcy, ruin, and disintegration unless fiscal conservatives persuade the voters, including those who pay little attention, that the Federal Government can take care of essential services at vastly lower cost. The argument -- and our nation's future -- will be won or lost not on debating how much rich people should be taxed but on pointing out how much taxpayer money the U.S. Government is wasting. That is how the conservative movement won in the past. But we forgot.