Regaining Trust on Money Issues

By Stephen Moore | December 4, 2018 | 8:51am EST
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (left) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (right) (Screenshot)

Republicans need to regain the offensive on the fiscal issues. The GOP has somehow allowed big-spending Democrats to get to the right of them on the issue of financial responsibility and balanced budgets.

Polls show that Democrats are now more trusted on balancing the budget than Republicans. That's like losing an arm wrestling contest to Nancy Pelosi.

The big first step for Republicans to regain American trust on fiscal responsibility is for President Donald Trump to deliver a nationally televised prime-time speech from the Oval Office to announce an all-hands-on-deck war on Washington waste.

Declare a debt-spending emergency. If Americans believed Trump were seriously committed to this initiative, he would be regarded as a fiscal superhero. His approval ratings would skyrocket. Who better than a businessman president to scrub out the hundreds of billions of useless expenditures that have made Americans so contemptuous of the Washington swamp.

The issue is teed up right now because the spending trends have been so alarming. The Congressional Budget Office just announced that the government is now spending $2 billion more than it takes in every day. Don't even think about blaming the tax cuts. In 2018, the estimated $3.4 trillion raised in federal revenues was the highest level ever in American history — even with the tax cuts. The problem is a spending avalanche that now exceeds $4 trillion of outlays a year.

Several weeks ago, a taxpayer watchdog group called Open the Books published an open letter signed by former Sen. Tom Coburn, Tom Smith and Adam Andrzejewski and sent to the president urging a waste war, and it listed hundreds of examples of taxpayer dollars being flushed down the drain. Open the Books estimates $125 billion in waste at the Pentagon alone.

When Trump was shown these lists of white elephants he responded: "I thought we already took care of this." Unfortunately, no. The bureaucratic blob made sure it wouldn't happen.

Fighting this war on waste won't be easy. Back in 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed the famous Grace Commission to ferret out waste, duplication and inefficiency in the federal government. That landmark commission of private sector businessmen and women examined every nook and cranny of the cavernous government agencies in and around Washington and uncovered some $420 billion in bureaucratic overspending.

It called for the elimination of hundreds of bureaus, agencies and departments that serve no purpose. It exposed expenses like the Pentagon's infamous $640 toilet seats — that was back when $640 was a lot of money — and $7,600 coffee pots.

Then the bureaucratic "resistance movement" set in and only about 10 percent to 15 percent of the Grace Commission recommendations were ever adopted. Here we are 35 years later and we are still wasting tens of billions of dollars a year on programs identified as outdated back in the 1980s. Now the cobwebs in these useless agencies are bigger than ever.

Trump seems committed. He has called for a 5 percent cut in the budget of every federal agency in 2019. Five measly cents out of every dollar. Any agency that says it can't do that should be given the list of the hundreds of pork projects buried in its budget.

Open the Books wants Trump to require every agency to list all spending items as little as $100 to be listed on a government website so we can monitor how the money is being spent. They want the president to report to the American people each month how much progress is being made in every agency in cutting their budgets.

Almost nothing would do more to guarantee Donald Trump's re-election than a crusade to weed out the hundreds of billions of dollars of fraud, inefficiency and duplication in Washington. No one is better to do it than a president who has been a successful businessman.

A government that is going broke and yet still spends tens of thousands of dollars a year on pianos, hundreds of millions of dollars a year on public relations firms (to advertise what a great job they are doing spending money?), and millions of dollars a year sending Social Security checks out to dead people, isn't serious about balancing the budget or spending taxpayer money with care.

And that's the whole money problem in Washington in a nutshell.

Stephen Moore is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation and an economic consultant with FreedomWorks. He is the co-author of "Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy."


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