The American public has seen it all - a government shutdown for the first time in 18 years, and what seems like the strongest partisan gridlock in history. Well, time is almost up again. In order to get the nation back on track, the Budget Conference Committee - chaired by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) - has until December 13 (another self-imposed deadline) to lay out a budget framework for the next few years. Looming ahead is another government shutdown on January 15 if the parties can't work out their differences.
After so many failures to find common ground, can they do it this time?
These are tough choices, but fortunately, two groups that represent constituencies from across the political spectrum today have laid out a road map. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) and the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) have been on opposing sides of most major legislative battles over recent years, including legislation on fiscal stimulus, health care and Wall Street reform. But the two groups have come together to identify waste and inefficiency in the federal budget, proposing specific cuts that would save taxpayers over half a trillion dollars.
The two groups call to cut the kinds of spending that make people shake their head and lose confidence in government. For instance:
• Over $120 billion would be cut from agricultural subsidies that go chiefly to large companies and boost the production of unhealthy additives, worsening the childhood obesity epidemic.
• More than $300 million from ending payments to clean up abandoned mines where the cleanup is already complete.
Many of the cuts would target giveaways to powerful interests and highly profitable corporations in mature industries that don't need special help:
• $2 billion in savings would come from eliminating programs that pay large and profitable corporations such as McDonalds and Fruit of the Loom to advertise their wares overseas.
• Taxpayers could save $16 million by eliminating the Space Flight Awareness Program, which has a history of paying for lavish events for the benefit of private contractors.
Then there are the other common-sense savings that boggle the minds of average Americans. The federal government owns more than 14,000 buildings that are in excess or underutilized, which costs taxpayers approximately $15 billion. Poorly conceived or failed military programs amounting to hundreds of billions should also finally be discontinued, especially when Pentagon authorities have determined they are not needed.
These solutions can replace sequestration budget cuts - which make no distinction between public priorities and wasteful spending - and ultimately help tackle the fiscal mess we see today. If two political advocacy groups that drastically differ on so many tax and budget policies can come together and agree on spending cuts, it's high time our elected leaders do the same.
At a time when the American public is quickly losing faith in our government, the Budget Conference Committee has a chance to prove us wrong. It's time to move America forward, and these recommendations are the place to start.
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