Congratulations on your re-election. As you are about to be sworn in for a second term, we at Taxpayers for Common Sense propose some themes for your agenda.
Lead by example – The American people deserve a budget that is transparent and understandable. Putting something online does not make it transparent. Too many budget documents are tucked away deep in agency websites. All of this information should be easily accessible and understandable. Challenge the Congress to up their game on transparency by requiring the Government Printing Office to publish online “red lines” of bills documenting changes as they progress through the process.
Be on time – Not one budget submitted by this Administration has been on time. You can argue that it’s hard to budget when the spending levels for the previous fiscal year aren’t even set, but delivering a late budget helps perpetuate the vicious cycle of delayed spending bills by starting the process later in the year.
Reform President – Too many times you have ceded leadership to Congress or outside entities like the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission. Make your mark as a reform President. Lay down markers on fundamental tax reform, budget process reform, agriculture subsidy reform, and entitlement reform. People respond to ideas and arguments for those ideas rather than broad platitudes that are subject to interpretation.
Public Interest not Special Interest – At the same time you were touting the deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, you were taking credit for a bunch of energy tax breaks being extended. These were part of a package of small bore tax breaks – called tax extenders – that benefitted not just renewable energy companies, but also NASCAR track owners and rum distillers. We cannot afford business as usual log-rolling to move important legislation. These giveaways have to end.
Make the Hard Decision – it is never going to be politically popular to raise revenue and reform entitlements. Just look at the backlash from discussions of modest changes in calculating Social Security cost of living increases or the expiration of the two year old payroll tax holiday that was making social security less solvent. But the hard decisions cannot be avoided. We need to raise revenue, cut spending, and reform entitlements. And we need you to lead us there.
Demand Accountability – Government must be accountable to taxpayers. To that end, agencies and departments must be modernized. There may be offices and programs that should cease to exist, like the Department of Agriculture Market Access Program or the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Or others that should be fundamentally overhauled like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works program. While there are bureaucratic, congressional, and special interests behind each agency or program, you have to use the power of your office to spearhead change.
Budgeting Disaster – We all know there are games and gimmicks that can make the budget and spending proposals appear less costly. But in the final calculation they all count against the deficit and end up on the nation’s debt waistline. We cannot afford to avoid budget caps by slapping emergency designations on spending that should compete within the budget, like was done with billions of dollars in the Sandy supplemental spending bill. In that case we need to budget better for disasters, including mitigation and resiliency spending in the annual budgets, rather than a knee-jerk, ad hoc approach after a major disaster.
Second terms have been historically difficult for Presidents and often marred by scandal. By vigorously and forcefully pursuing the taxpayer agenda laid out above, you can avoid that trap and cement a legacy that not only you can be proud of, but one that will put the nation on the right fiscal track and begin to restore the public’s faith in government.