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Now that the U.S. Senate is under new management, Congress is in a position to begin reining in the federal government’s spending to a greater degree than was possible in its previous session. Writing at RealClearMarkets, Jeffrey Dorfman offers three easy and painless ways that the new Congress might first exercise greater fiscal discipline:
First, Republicans should go for the low-hanging fruit, the easiest spending to eliminate: unspent balances. There are still $80 billion in unspent stimulus funds and another $20 billion in unspent funds that Congress appropriated at least three years ago for other purposes. While some of these funds will likely never be spent, they are still authorized by Congress so the money could walk out the door at any time. Repealing the authorization would save somewhere between the full $100 billion and nothing, but it also has added symbolism even if the true savings is small. Plus, it is hard to see too much opposition to this cut.
Second, Republicans should begin a process of selling vacant federal office buildings. Right now, we are spending $25 billion per year on maintenance and upkeep for buildings the government is not even using. Selling them would save that $25 billion plus bring in revenue equal to whatever the sale price is. It might take a little while, and some buildings are probably worth keeping, but let’s get started. Again, this seems like an easy early victory toward downsizing government, increasing efficiency, and saving money to reduce the deficit. Local governments could even start to collect property taxes on the buildings once the federal government sells them. Everyone wins.
After those easy fiscal boosts, Congress should begin to eliminate all the federal programs that play favorites in our economy instead of working to help all sectors and people. This would include both industry- and place-specific programs. Examples would be programs such as the Rural Business Program Account which subsidizes rural small businesses. We have a Small Business Administration already, we don’t need a duplicate agency that does the same thing but only in rural areas (where the SBA also operates).
The infamous earmarks would also fall into this category as they are the ultimate example of federal spending designed to benefit only a targeted beneficiary. Green energy loans and subsidies would be prime examples of programs trying to pick winners that should be eliminated. The more such special interest programs are cut, the more we could save.
Dorfman goes on to offer other candidates for restraining spending, but these are the easy ones that might be described as “no-brainers“, which means that we could find out soon just how much intelligence is actually at work in the new congressional leadership compared to the previous one that completely refused to consider even these simple reforms.
National Institute of Health