Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Deficit Death by a Thousand Cuts

• November 18, 2010 • 3:43 PM

The U.S. government’s deficit was created piece by billion-dollar piece. The bipartisan debt commission’s suggestions offer specific incremental steps to reverse that process.

Most proposals out of Washington to rein in the deficit have been maddeningly unspecific. Politicians talk about freezing discretionary spending, although exactly what they mean by “discretionary” is often up to interpretation. They trot out “waste, fraud and abuse,” as if there were a few trillion dollars hiding there. Most often, they pitch vague ideas about cutting everything but, of course, the important things, which invariably turn out to be the most expensive.

Within the past week, however, some folks have finally been getting down to real specifics. Not surprisingly, these plans don’t come from currently elected officials skittish about offering painful solutions. A draft strategy to curb the deficit was released last week by the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and two other reports have since been published by the Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform and the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force.

Their ideas may never come to pass; writing reports is always easier than acting on them. But just by floating concrete details, these reports spur a valuable national thought exercise: Would you be willing to accept, say, these hard choices, all offered by the President’s commission?

1. Establish co-pays at VA hospitals. The co-chairs of the president’s commission propose increasing the out-of-pocket expenses for some veterans who currently pay no fees for in-patient or out-patient care at VA hospitals, saving $700 million by 2015. The fee would apply to veterans who do not have service-related disabilities.

2. Eliminate Office of Safe & Drug-Free Schools. This cut would save $1.8 billion by 2015. The co-chairs argue that the office hasn’t produced hoped-for results, and, anyway, “While school safety should be protected, violence and drug abuse are problems that occur far less on school grounds than elsewhere.”

[class name="dont_print_this"]

Idea Lobby

THE IDEA LOBBY
Miller-McCune's Washington correspondent Emily Badger follows the ideas informing, explaining and influencing government, from the local think tank circuit to academic research that shapes D.C. policy from afar.

[/class] 3. Eliminate Rural Utilities Service programs. This idea would save $500 million in 2015 by cutting some grants and loan guarantees to rural communities that have public-private partnerships where typical utilities won’t serve them. While the RUS is now trying to expand rural broadband access, some programs — the Local Television Loan Program? — may be outdated.

4. Cut funding to Smithsonian and National Parks. The commission proposes offsetting these cuts ($300 million by 2015) by creating or raising visitor’s fees. About 30 million people visited the 19 Smithsonian museums and National Zoo last year for free. Charging about $7.50 per person — considerably less, the commission points out, than comparable museums — the Smithsonian could have made $225 million off these visitors in 2009.

5. Eliminate funding for Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The government would save $500 million by 2015 by cutting funding for the CPB, currently at its highest level ever. The CPB primarily supports PBS and NPR stations. The president’s commission doesn’t suggest how those organizations should replace the money. More pledge drives?

6. Eliminate private-sector space investment. The president’s future plans for NASA rely heavily on private companies developing space shuttles and flight transportation that the government will eventually purchase from them. The president’s fiscal commission suggests the opposite: scrap the $6 billion NASA is planning to invest in private-sector space development over the next five years.

7. Cut research funding for fossil fuels. This idea would cut off new funding to the Department of Energy’s applied research on fossil fuels, a program the commission argues was created back when the development of such technology was stunted. Now, much of this work is also being duplicated by private companies. The move would save $900 million by 2015 (but note: no one is suggesting that money go instead to research algae or solar cells).

8. Make food-processing facilities pay for their own inspection. A USDA inspector must be on site at all times to test and sample products at meat and poultry slaughterhouses. If the plants had to pay a fee to finance the inspections, the government would save $900 million a year.

9. Acquire less land under the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The fund usually gets between $250 million and $450 million a year to acquire (but not maintain) new land for federal and state land management agencies, “while many argue,” the co-chairs write, “that the federal government and states have difficulty managing the land they already own.” The government would save $300 million a year by halting new land purchases while it deals with its maintenance backlog.

10. Freeze non-combat military pay. By halting pay at 2011 levels for three years, the government could save $9.2 billion by 2015 ($7.6 billion in compensation and $1.6 billion in later retirement payouts). This pay includes housing and subsistence allowances. Similarly freezing the salaries and compensation for civilian DoD workers would save another $5.3 billion.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Emily Badger
Emily Badger is a freelance writer living in the Washington, D.C. area who has contributed to The New York Times, International Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor. She previously covered college sports for the Orlando Sentinel and lived and reported in France.

More From Emily Badger

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.


October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


October 22 • 4:00 AM

For Preschoolers, Spite and Smarts Go Together

New research from Germany finds greater cognitive skills are associated with more spiteful behavior in children.


October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


Follow us


Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.