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Michael Swartz / Sep. 22, 2017

A Leaner Government Is ‘Easy.’ But Is It Possible?

Cutting a few things would lead to enormous savings. Too bad Congress won’t do the work.

It’s been almost two decades since Americans had a government with a balanced budget, but there are those who dream it’s possible again. Among those dreamers are the budgetary advocates of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), which leads one to ask: Have there ever been citizens for government waste? Yes, and many of them live within the capital Beltway.

Anyway, the group has once again put out its “Prime Cuts” guide for cutting the fat out of the federal budget. If followed to the letter, the report claims, taxpayers would save $2.3 trillion over five years and have a balanced budget in three, returning us to “a path toward fiscal sanity,” according to CAGW president Tom Schatz. Among those items on CAGW’s hit list are old chestnuts like various agricultural subsidies, the longstanding support of Amtrak, and the Clinton-era COPS program. (Remember 100,000 cops on the streets? What they didn’t tell you was that after the federal money ran out, the locality had to keep the staff on their dime for at least a year.) AmeriCorps is another Clinton program that CAGW would like terminated.

But the group also advocates scrapping earmarks for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and eliminating Community Development Block Grants, along with repealing the Davis-Bacon Act and raising the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security. Good luck finding the congressman with the courage to risk his political life by going against the lobbyists, the bureaucrats and the advocacy groups.

One of the more amusing entities on the CAGW chopping block is the Energy Star program, which is familiar to consumers but is “seriously open to fraud and abuse,” given that a phony gas-powered toaster submitted as a test item was one of many such ersatz items certified by the EPA during a Government Accounting Office audit back in 2010. Once again, this began as a noble intention but has since taken on a life of its own despite the fact that most commonly available appliance and fixture products are Energy Star-rated.

Yet the very existence of such a guide — one that features over 600 items — is a testament to how far down the “deep state” has drilled. While it may seem logical to have programs like the Tennessee Valley Authority, Southeastern Power Administration, or Appalachian Regional Commission eliminated because they’ve served their intended purpose, these programs live on through a “mission creep” that keeps bureaucrats happy and congressmen capable of bringing home the bacon. Thus, we see the timeless truth of Ronald Reagan’s claim that a government program is “the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.”

Despite a new administration that seems more serious about cutting government waste, it’s likely CAGW could simply repackage its book next year and slightly revise the figures to suit. Given they’ve been at this task since 1993, it’s fair to say CAGW is a lonely voice in the swampy wilderness of our nation’s capital.

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