A Historic Opportunity: Government programs, once launched, never disappear

Cal Thomas,

“No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!” — Ronald Reagan

President Trump presents his first budget to Congress today (Thursday). It is, as The Washington Post points out, “historic” because if adopted it would be the biggest contraction in the federal government since the end of World War II. Predictably, a Post story focuses on the number of federal workers it estimates could lose their jobs, rather than on whether those jobs and the programs associated with them are necessary.

The biggest drivers of debt remain entitlement programs and true to his campaign promise, the president is not touching those, at least for now. His challenge will be to ask Congress to eliminate failed programs, because too many members rely on campaign contributions from lobbyists with an interest in maintaining the status quo.

Some federal agencies have long practiced a policy of telling employees to find ways to spend leftover money at the end of a fiscal year for fear their budgets might be reduced. The practice is a contributing factor to government’s seemingly unstoppable growth.

While most proposals for cutting the size and cost of government tinker with spending at the edges while ignoring the main drivers of debt, a beginning can be made. If Republicans start with failed programs and present them as failures that waste taxpayer money, the public might come to trust them when it comes to the bigger things.

Patrick Louis Knudsen, a consultant and visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., has authored a plan he says can save $42 billion just by eliminating bad government programs and initiating spending reductions in others that may still serve necessary functions.

Knudsen’s recommendations, made in 2013, do not take into account projected savings from changes in Obamacare, but they are a good beginning. Many programs could be managed as well, or better and at lower costs, by the private sector.

The U.S. government, notes Knudsen, contributes money to many international organizations, which could easily be financed by private capital, if anyone is interested in them. These include the International Coffee Organization, The International Copper Study Group, The International Cotton Advisory Committee, the International Grains Council, and my personal favorite, the International Lead and Zinc Study Group.

There are 18 Energy Department programs Knudsen says could be turned over to the private sector.

Familiar targets include privatizing Amtrak and eliminating all subsidies for the Public Broadcasting Service, which once served a valuable cultural purpose, but is, today, in an age of multiple TV choices, as outdated as a VHS tape.

Space precludes naming more programs that could be cut, but visit heritage.org and search for Knudsen’s report which lists them all.

Cutting the size and cost of government is doable if the reductions are properly and skillfully presented to the public. Predictably, Democrats will howl about starving children because they always do, even when Republican proposals merely target the rate of spending increases without ever getting to real cuts.

Is there enough of our Puritan DNA left to eliminate waste? We’re about to find out. If a government headed by Republicans can’t, or won’t, live up to their philosophy of smaller government and more personal freedom, why do we need them? If unnecessary spending and needed entitlement reforms are not accomplished by Republicans, the spending will continue and the debt will grow until the inevitable economic collapse.