The time has come for Congress to begin a serious discussion about how it is going to correct the current budgetary path into deeper and deeper debt. Many members of the 112th Congress campaigned on a promise to cut government spending and reduce the federal deficit. In January, Taxpayers for Common Sense offered Congress a list of cuts as a starting point for this process, and promised to send more. Below we have fulfilled this promise, proposing additional cuts; producing a running total of more than $900 billion over ten years. We will add to these cuts even further in the coming weeks.
We believe the programs listed here – whether funded through appropriations or the tax code – can be safely eliminated because they are an inefficient, ineffective, or wasteful use of taxpayer money. We call these our Common Sense Cuts.
Click on the titles below for details in each category, or click at the top of the page to download the full 14 page PDF documenting all $900 billion in suggested savings.
Outdated and ineffective farm policies waste billions of federal funds each year, jeopardize fragile lands and waters and no longer reflect the realities of 21st century agriculture. Essentially unchanged since being created in the 1930s as temporary assistance measures during the Great Depression, current farm policies do not address the needs of the majority of America’s farmers, rural communities, consumers, or taxpayers and harm our environment. Billions of dollars are funneled each year to an increasingly small number of large farming operations, while the majority of farmers and rural residents receive almost no assistance. The cuts below, along with a reformed sustainable agriculture policy that more effectively and efficiently allocates federal resources, will save taxpayers billions and help restore environmental balance to our farmlands.
Taxpayers have been subsidizing the same mature, polluting energy technologies for decades. Many projects and outdated programs still exist on the books and should be cut, but tackling them is difficult because they are often entrenched in our existing energy policies and connected to the big energy industries. Eliminating these programs and policies could save billions of taxpayer dollars by cutting subsidies to well-established energy sources including coal, oil, and gas.
For nearly two centuries, the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has been a way for lawmakers to bring government-funded construction projects back to their home district. The agency constructs water infrastructure projects dealing with navigation, flood and storm damage reduction, and environmental restoration. In many cases, however, the projects the Corps pursues are undertaken not because they serve the national interest, but because of a lawmaker’s political power. Many Corps projects are economically wasteful. By focusing on structural solutions like dams and levees, the Corps often ignores alternatives that are just as effective but less costly for taxpayers. Over the last several years, Corps projects have been criticized by the National Academy of Science, Government Accountability Office (GAO), and even the U.S. Army Inspector General. While there are many questionable Corps projects, some deserve special attention because they are solely the product of political calculations in Congress, and are especially wasteful of taxpayer dollars.
For too long, the defense budget was considered untouchable by fiscal disciplinarians. Despite the fact that the base budget alone (not including war funds) has more than doubled over the past decade and now constitutes more than 55 percent of our discretionary spending, lawmakers from either side of the aisle were loathe to touch the Department of Defense (DOD) budget. Republicans considered it sacred, Democrats didn’t want to seem soft on defense, and neither side wanted to give up the money the bill sends to nearly every Congressional district. But this rapid buildup of funds did not encourage fiscal prudence: “What little discipline existed in the Defense Department when it came to spending has gone completely out the window,” Secretary Robert Gates admits. But our economic crisis is forcing political leadership to put every option on the table when deciding how to trim government spending, and a consensus is emerging among voters that all government agencies must do their part to restore the country to fiscal stability. After all, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen has identified the nation’s debt as its greatest national security threat.
The federal budget, like any business or household budget, has two sides of the ledger: expenditures and revenues. This is why we think any plan to put the federal budget on a path to sustainability must address both federal income and spending. In fact, on the revenue side, like the spending side of the ledger, there are many “low-hanging fruit”: tax provisions that are not only ineffective and perhaps counterproductive, but also hugely expensive in terms of foregone revenue – revenue better used to address pressing needs, fund effective programs, or reduce the deficit.
The nation’s transportation system is broken, as the gasoline tax that each of us pays at the pump to keep the system moving falls far short of the amount needed to maintain the nation’s road and transit systems. In just the past two years, Congress has transferred some $34 billion in general tax revenues to the Highway Trust Fund to keep it solvent and reversed an $8.7 billion rescission mandated at the expiration of the last highway bill so that states and local governments can continue to spend on transportation projects. Yet all that spending does nothing to fix the fund’s underlying problems. One way to solve future shortfalls is to make the transportation program more efficient, and there are a number of proposed projects and programs that Congress should cut to take us in that direction.
These Common Sense Cuts were previously only compiled for a five year window, and those old documents are linked below. Since we updated our Common Sense Cuts to a ten year window, we have changed the lists slightly to match the change in programs and cost estimates. However, for reference, we have kept the old lists below. Please note that these cost estimates and descriptions and no longer up-to-date.
Budget Cut List #1: $148 Billion (pdf)
Budget Cut List #2: $205 Billion (pdf)