9. STOP: military foreign aid, depreciation allowances, farm price supports, various military hardware/system money pits, bridges to nowhere, and myriad other boondoggles
It is correct, as true conservatives point out, that our federal budget and debt are unsupportable in the long run. Without several abnormal, and potentially harmful, interventions by foreign sources of money, the U.S. Treasury would be bankrupt by most financial standards. Worse from our standpoint – i.e., average citizens – the Social Security system “trust fund” has been raided to pay the current costs of operation of the federal government. The “trust fund” contains many IOUs from this potentially bankrupt treasury.
Basically, the government operates day-to-day on cash flow – taxes coming in pay for current expenses. When expenses exceed cash flow, the government sells bonds, which are middle- to long-term loans from the buyers of the bonds. At the end of 2006, we (the U.S. Treasury) owed more than $8 trillion, of which over 40% is due to the raiding of “trust funds” mentioned above. For the past 6 years, this debt has been rising at an average rate of nearly 8% per year. Sooner or later, the U.S. government will be forced to severely cut programs, reduce payroll, and raise taxes in order to service, if not reduce, the debt. I strongly recommend that we do all of these things now – partly because debt service (interest) is a large and increasing component of the national debt.
Cutting programs will be quite easy for an independent president, who is not beholden to the corporations that profit hugely, nor to their minions within the government. My legal theory is that the president, being commander-in-chief, can axe military hardware procurement. Many billions of dollars can be saved by elimination of just the well-known “star wars”, B-2, F-22, and “new nuclear bomb” programs. I predict that there are many billions more to be found, when a more critical investigation of the military budget takes place.
In my opinion the same reasoning applies to all military foreign aid. All of this type of foreign “aid” ends with my inauguration. Our history of such “aid” is a dishonor to all of us who cherish democracy as a political system. Other than the aid rendered during World War II, there is almost no example of U.S. military aid that has aided a democratic movement against an autocratic regime. Related to this, I would close almost all foreign military bases, redeploying troops and equipment to bases in the U.S.A. (If a country with a “certifiable” democratic government asks to retain U.S. military forces, this can be discussed – in an open forum.)
Some of the other programs that I would propose to cut or eliminate will require a compliant Congress – which is not going to happen in the 111th Congress. For purposes of program definition, though, I will list some examples: 1) farm price supports; 2) depletion allowances for the extractive industries (logging, petroleum, coal, etc.) in the federal tax code; 3) the odd and unnecessary “earmarks” that legislators sneak into the budget, as exemplified by Alaska Senator Stevens’ expensive bridge between Ketchikan and an airport. These may seem to be almost inconsequential in the context of our enormous budget, but there are so many of these “porkbarrel” items that they become very significant in total.
Payroll – I would love to get my hands on that one. Again – the military organization is the purview of the POTUS. By February 1, 2009 there would be approximately 80% less general and generals’ staff officers than at present. All expense accounts and “slush funds” would be severely curtailed and monitored for all military staff. How about a Ford Focus for official transportation?
Staffing of the federal bureaucracy in general seems to me to be subject to similar control by the POTUS. Administration is the name associated with the executive branch, so management and personnel issues should come under that rubric. Again – middle managers would be fired in herds. Again – expense accounts and “slush funds” would be severely curtailed and monitored for all staff.
Middle managers often bring an empire-building agenda with them; or they parse the program to show that this detail and that detail need more attention and, therefore, more staff, if not more sub-managers. One of the satisfying side-benefits of eliminating middle managers is that there are less impositions on the public that arise from their ambitions or from their hyper-activism. The bulk of the bureaucracy, however, can be retained; because reductions can occur via retirements and resignations. Simply put, there would be little hiring for federal jobs for a few years – at least.
Raising taxes was broached in Position Paper # 1. In general the program of this campaign is aimed at major tax increases for the super-rich and substantial tax increases for the merely rich. Of course, such an approach is subject to congressional legislation. It could be that the 111th Congress may have some will to engage this subject. This campaign will argue for very big increases and will accept what it can get.
However, in particular I would like to try to establish a principle that is occasionally brought to bear in the promulgation of taxes – tax the beneficiary. For instance, our taxes support geological engineers who procure and analyze data that are used by the petroleum industry to minimize costs and risks. The industry might say that the whole population receives benefit from such research. I say, rather, that the theory of capitalist investment is that profit is reward and loss is penalty for investment at-risk. If profit is maximized because cost is minimized, then the benefit is to the industry. Therefore, the industry should pay for the service. If they want to privatize that sort of service, do it. Then we can eliminate this work – and cost – from the federal budget.
One exception – and this may seem a double standard in terms of “tax the beneficiary” – I would increase the Social Security taxes of the rich, whether they use the retirement payments or not. My reasoning in this case is that the loans from the Social Security funds to the Treasury have benefitted the rich via federal government cost-plus-profit contracts, foreign interventions to make the world safe for corporations, price supports, lax regulation, money supply manipulation, and a myriad of other forms of system abuse for the benefit of the rich. Somebody has to repay those IOUs, and it should be the true beneficiaries of governmental largesse.
So – can the POTUS actually accomplish any of these items in the face of an adversarial Congress? I think that it can be done, and I would most certainly make the attempt. Here is the strategy. The U.S. Constitution allots budget control to the Congress, but there is nothing in the text that says that all of the budget allowance has to be spent. There is de facto precedent for the President doing what he damn well pleases; more to the point, there is historical precedent for withholding funds. I propose to combine the two in the sense that it would please the majority of the people in this country to withhold money from most of the examples cited above. (Typically, these programs are considered too secret or too sophisticated to poll the citizens’ opinions, and they are approved only by “experts” and by our “representatives”.) In any case the debate would be instructive.
Meantime, I would continue to submit budget requests that reflect the programs outlined in this campaign literature. That debate, too, should help to identify the true national interests and to spotlight the corrupt and the wasteful budget elements. Frankly, it will be a rough few years, but that era is upon us soon in any case. We might as well make it sooner. It might turn out to be less painful than allowing the situation to deteriorate year by year.