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First on the Chopping Block

Monday February 20th, 2017   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 6:14am PST   •  

65623649 - chopping firewood detail with wooden block and axe There is a draft memo circulating around the White House’s Office of Management and Budget that identifies the first federal government spending programs that the Trump administration is targeting for cuts on Capitol Hill as part of its first budget proposal.

The New York Times reports:

The White House budget office has drafted a hit list of programs that President Trump could eliminate to trim domestic spending, including longstanding conservative targets like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Legal Services Corporation, AmeriCorps and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities.

Work on the first Trump administration budget has been delayed as the budget office awaited Senate confirmation of former Representative Mick Mulvaney, a spending hard-liner, as budget director. Now that he is in place, his office is ready to move ahead with a list of nine programs to eliminate, an opening salvo in the Trump administration’s effort to reorder the government and increase spending on defense and infrastructure.

Most of the programs cost under $500 million annually, a pittance for a government that is projected to spend about $4 trillion this year….

While the total amount of annual savings of roughly $2.5 billion would be comparatively small, administration officials want to highlight the agencies in their coming budget proposal as examples of misuse of taxpayer dollars. An internal memo circulated within the Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday, and obtained by The New York Times, notes that the list could change. Proposals for more extensive cuts in cabinet-level agencies are expected to follow.

In addition to the five programs listed above, the prospective list also includes the White House Office of Drug Control Policy, the Export-Import Bank, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

The article quotes the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Steve Bell, who argues that the cuts represented by eliminating spending on these government-funded entities are of “little significance”:

“It’s sad in a way because those programs aren’t causing the deficit,” Mr. Bell said. “These programs don’t amount to a hill of beans.”

Here’s the problem with that kind of inside-the-Beltway thinking. All of these programs represent the kind of nickel-and-dime wasteful spending that U.S. politicians and bureaucrats have continued to promote, year after year, despite knowing their wasteful qualities. Worse, the politicians and bureaucrats argue that because the costs are so “small”, they shouldn’t bother addressing the waste they represent.

How are they wasteful? Often, the money that is channeled to these government-funded entities goes to duplicate activities that are already being done within the private sector or that are done by other government agencies or that are just plain outdated.

For example, consider the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s popular children’s show Sesame Street, whose production has been funded by the premium HBO cable television network since 2015, and whose production company generates significant revenues from the merchandising and licensing of the intellectual property that it developed as it has benefitted from taxpayer funding.

Or the National Endowment for the Arts’ funding of hologram performances by deceased comedians as a tourist draw for the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, New York, which follows in the creative footsteps of the concert promoters in the private sector who relaunched the stage performing career of the deceased Tupac Shakur in hologram form back in 2012.

Meanwhile, what the White House Office of Drug Control Policy the Applachian Regional Commission do is essentially duplicated several times over across multiple federal agencies, where what they are doing can be considered to be both outdated and ineffective.

Taking on even more intimidating levels of excessive spending in Washington D.C. requires that such seemingly trivial little drops in the federal government’s spending bucket be plugged. Unfortunately, that requires a monumental change in the mindset of the bureaucratic culture of Capitol Hill, which is why it is necessary to take such seemingly small actions toward real fiscal discipline. If they cannot do the small and easy things, there is little chance that they’ll meaningfully take on the bigger fiscal challenges before the nation.

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February 2017