A radical plan start where we agree

December 20, 2010
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The President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform recently issued its proposals for reducing the federal government’s wide budget deficit. Predictably, a rush of negative reaction immediately followed from both the left and the right. Each side clamored that the other wants to either raise your taxes, or slash valued benefits and services.

The commission’s recommendations represent some solid steps toward loosening the tight grip that special interests have on our government by finally putting agribusiness subsidies, corporate giveaways and unnecessary and outdated defense spending on the chopping block. We’re also pleased to see that one of the most egregious tax loopholes for millionaire hedge fund managers would finally be closed.

However, in many places, the Commission’s report lacks specifics — including several that were included in the co-chairs’ draft proposal released earlier — around spending cuts and subsidies. Those will be tough conversations, but ones that need to happen sooner rather than later. Also, calls for broad, across-the-board cuts do not safeguard national priorities over wasteful programs and can be counterproductive.

Moving forward, leadership in Congress has a choice. They can either begin the process of real fiscal reform by focusing on the specific remedies in the commissioners’ recommendations that make sense to taxpayers and have bipartisan support, or they can dodge the issue by continuing to fan the flames of disagreement and gridlock.

If they choose progress over paralysis, they should start by reviewing common-ground reforms. The right and left alike can agree to end unnecessary payments to mature, profitable industries that do not need taxpayer subsidized financial incentives to run their businesses. Few, outside of the lobbyists for the direct beneficiaries, would argue that it is a national priority to spend taxpayer funds on TV ads in Asia, Europe and elsewhere hawking consumer products on behalf of multinational corporations. The so-called Market Access Program has outlived whatever its original purpose might have been.

Congress should stop pay-outs to industries that do more harm than good and lead to mounting public health or environmental clean-up costs. Despite numerous studies demonstrating that many types of ethanol use more energy to produce and create more pollution than it saves, we continue to subsidize agri-business and oil and gas conglomerates to produce and use it.

Overspending on unaccountable contractors has reached unfathomable heights. The government continues to award sole-source contracts — contracts without any competitive bidding process — to, in several expensive examples, produce far more goods than it needs.

Competition and planning are values that cross the partisan divide.

Americans heard quite a bit about profligate federal spending in this election. Many candidates made taming the spending culture in Washington their lead campaign theme. Now in office, these lawmakers have a chance to match the rhetoric that brought them to office with actions that begin the process responsible fiscal management.

We urge Congress, the new members as well as leadership, to start where the left and right can agree, where lobbyists for corporate special interests have gamed the system, where the American people hope and expect progress can be made by working together.

Government can work better and safeguard taxpayer dollars. There is common ground if our leaders are willing to look for it.

Meghan Hess is program associate with PIRGIM (The Public Interest Research Group in Michigan).

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