James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

The final nail in the coffin for tax increases

March 2, 2011

AFGHANISTAN/

OK, so the U.S. government’s auditor has found duplication and overlap that may be wasting $100 billion or more a year, according to the Republican senator who commissioned the study. How can anyone argue for higher taxes as long as Washington is so inefficient? A few points:

1) I mean, no one should expect the feds to be as Six Sigma efficient as FedEx or Wal-Mart. Government doesn’t have the financial discipline from the profit motive. Its priorities are to “insure domestic tranquility” and “secure the blessings of liberty,” as the introduction to America’s 1787 prospectus puts it.

2) But the audit from the GAO gives a feel for the yawning chasm between Washington and those models of corporate efficiency. For instance, the auditor found 82 separate federal programs to improve teacher quality ($4 billion a year), and 20 distinct programs to deal with homelessness ($2.9 billion a year). The GAO also found plenty of waste in the $700 billion military budget, which should open the eyes of Republicans shielding it from the ax. Realistically, the Army and Marine Corp don’t really need to develop separate versions of “mine rollers” to counter roadside explosives.

3) Streamlining redundant programs would be a solid start toward fiscal soundness. A next step might be to downsize the federal civilian workforce, which has so far been spared the cuts seen in the private sector. Trimming the federal headcount by 15 percent — some of which might potentially be done by not replacing retirees — would save nearly $300 billion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Bottom line: Promised federal pension and healthcare benefits will eventually need to be scaled back. And, in exchange, some taxes might need to rise to spare some Democrat-supported spending. But these big-ticket items are tough to sell with polls showing public trust in the government at its weakest in a half century. Reports like the GAO’s latest won’t help.

Thriftier and more competent government might only save relatively few bucks today, but it would help create the public confidence needed for more radical action tomorrow.

Photo: U.S. Marine Corps prepares a mine roller system for a mission in southern Afghanistan. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

Comments

Not one word about the responsibility of Congress for this mess. The agriculture committees give money to the Agi Dept for food inspection. Another committee gives money to the EPA for the same function, and on and on and on.

Congress needs to be reorganized before you fire a bunch of civil servants – you might fire the wrong one

Posted by jgunn2873 | Report as abusive
 

You are absolutely right. There is no reason to raise taxes as this will just create more waste. Cut spending. Instead of these folks crowing about the greatest richest country in the world so lets throw some money at a problem, starve government so it will be forced to be more efficient. We can’t keep letting these congress people keep on squandering tax money to get themselves re-elected.

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive
 

Well, it is a very simple problem. Too many layers of inefficient government and duplication or even triplication of functions.

But the solution is almost impossible. The very people who have to enact new laws to trim down government might have to eliminate their own jobs as well. Would you do that if you were in their shoes? NO WAY. End of story.

Posted by doctorjay317 | Report as abusive
 

A little tired about the uninformed comments on federal employees. We pay into our retirement system, pay half of our health care insurance, and have been on 401K style plan (defined contribution) since the 1980′s, thanks to R. Reagan. Those older employees, like me, who have paid into Social Security for work outside the government but still will retire under the defined benefit plan, will receive NO BENEFITS from SS. While the federal workforce may or may not need to be reduced, federal employees pay for their retirement and benefits.

Posted by gac | Report as abusive
 

To reduce the deficit and retain the self respect of a country that is dis-honoring and violating contracts, social security among others, This administration should have the bloated corporations pay a fare share of taxes.
Average citizens pay a minimum tax when they file. Why shouldn’t the corporations that pay a big 0 not pay a minimum based on volume.
They are paying bonuses to the insiders with their excessive profits and not creating jobs that the tax breaks were suppose to be incentive for!!!

Posted by izzyis1 | Report as abusive
 

good

Posted by dreaming123 | Report as abusive
 

asgr

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive
 

srt

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive
 

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