OK, so it’s just a half of one percent of the $3.4 trillion budget, but the $17 billion in “terminations, reductions, and savings” proposed by the Obama Administration today still represents smarter governing, in that the Administration weighed costs against benefits, recommending cuts in those programs that didn’t look so worthwhile from that net benefit perspective. And unlike the Bush Administration’s similarly small list of proposed cuts (totaling $34 billion in last year’s budget), the Obama Administration’s list includes eliminating some low-merit tax expenditures (specifically, some tax preferences for the oil and gas industry) and not just direct spending.
So these are low net-benefit cuts that don’t yield a whole lot of savings. Yet budget policy experts don’t seem very optimistic that Congress will go along with even these cuts:
Obama’s list of proposed cuts is less ambitious than the hit list former president George W. Bush produced last year, which targeted 151 programs for $34 billion in savings. Like most of the cuts Bush sought, congressional sources and independent budget analysts predict, Obama’s also are likely to prove a tough sell.
“Even if you got all of those things, it would be saving pennies, not dollars. And you’re not going to begin to get all of them,” said Isabel Sawhill, a Brookings Institution economist who waged her own battles with Congress as a senior official in the Clinton White House budget office. “This is a good government exercise without much prospect of putting a significant dent in spending.”…
[T]he more likely outcome, budget analysts said, is that few to none of the programs targeted by Obama will be terminated. Presidents from both parties have routinely rolled out long lists of spending cuts — and lawmakers from both parties routinely ignore them.
“You can go through the budget line by line, but there’s no line that says ‘waste, fraud and abuse,’” said Robert Bixby, executive director of the nonprofit Concord Coalition, which promotes deficit reduction. “What some people think is waste, other people think is a vital government service.”
If Congress is not willing to support even these cuts–given the demonstrated low net-benefit of these small programs and given the President’s recommendation/blessing on these cuts–then how are they supposed to go along with the really tough choices, to scale back on the major programs and the tax cuts that they love even more (and that cost far, far more)? It’s an early and easier test in fiscal responsibility that I’m still afraid our government might fail.
Maybe we ought to consider this policy tactic: renaming as many of our federal programs as we can the “waste, fraud and abuse” program.