Run with the Scissors

Run with the Scissors

It’s past time to get out the scissors. This week the latest deficit projections emerged, forecasting a $1.3 trillion federal deficit this year, and an additional $3.5 trillion in debt over the next ten years . We’re suggesting a way to get things started by slicing as much as $380 billion in wasteful and environmentally harmful low hanging budgetary fruit.

This week we joined with environmental group Friends of the Earth , free market think tank Heartland Institute , and consumer watchdog Public Citizen to release the Green Scissors 2011 report. “The new analysis highlights billions of dollars in cuts to unnecessary, outdated, and ineffective spending programs that also support environmentally harmful activities and can produce additional long-term liabilities for taxpayers.”

While the report provides good reading for all lawmakers, the ones who should be sitting in the front row include the 12 members of Congress who now sit on the so-called “Super Committee” tasked with producing a set of recommendations for saving up to $1.5 trillion over the next ten years.

To be sure, the new Congressional “Super Committee” will have its hands full coming up with cuts and revenue raisers, but the Green Scissors report provides some good fodder. Like a lean, mean, slicing machine, it offers up about a 1/3 of the reductions they need to achieve in only half the time!

Green Scissors details billions of dollars in agriculture, energy, land and water, and transportation spending waste that should be a part of any deficit reduction plan. Of course this doesn't list every way we can pare down our deficit – check out our starter list of discretionary, mandatory, and tax expenditures so far – but it's a start. We'll never get our debt in check if we don't start somewhere. So why not start right here?

The federal government can save billions every year making sure it receives its fair share of revenue for use of public resources, as well as cutting bogus spending. Taxpayers own vast amounts of natural resources and we should get a fair market value when they are developed, instead of just giving them away, as is the case with the 1872 Mining Law and royalty-free oil and gas drilling. We also need to rein in the litany of tax breaks that litter the code, increase complexity, and unnecessarily subsidize highly profitable industries – whether it is for oil and gas or in the alternative energy field of ethanol and biofuels. And we need to make sure federal tax dollars are only funding infrastructure projects that serve a real national need and are good stewards of our dollars. Subsidizing rural airline passengers up to a $1,000 a piece, spending $2 billion on a boondoggle, the economically unjustified Mississippi River navigation locks, or building fancy bridges when just as useful, but far cheaper, alternatives are available is something we cannot afford.

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There is also future risk to consider. The nuclear industry is set to receive billions in loan guarantees for new reactor construction, new reactors that are plagued with cost, safety, and technological concerns. These are high risk loans that private markets won’t finance, so why should taxpayers take on this financial burden? Or promoting high risk development and crop production with billions of dollars in flood and crop insurance subsidies.

There are many things Congress and the federal government can do to save money and help the environment. We’re just getting started. There are timber subsidies, ranching subsidies, and subsidies for companies overseas. The list goes on.

To be sure, all of these programs and projects have political constituencies. It won’t be easy; it never is. But considering a broad, extremely diverse coalition has come together and agreed that all of this wasteful and environmentally harmful spending has got to go, this is where the Super Committee has to start.

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TCS Quote of the Week

“I think we are all committed to … looking at the tax code, getting rid of the loopholes, things that we all agree need to be done, and then along with that you have to have real reductions in government spending” – Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) ( Arkansas News )

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