Monday, September 10, 2012

Get serious about federal debt

Deficit reduction isn't getting the attention it deserves in this year's presidential campaign. Both parties are too busy trying to carve out an advantage among targeted niche voters to address the big issues like the federal debt. But the coming of the "fiscal cliff" on Jan. 1, when the Bush tax cuts expire and the sequestration of spending that Congress agreed to earlier takes effect, should bring deficits back into the spotlight.

If anyone were truly serious about doing something about the federal debt and deficit — and neither the highly touted Paul Ryan plan nor the Obama budget results in a balanced budget, just more (but smaller) deficits and more debt — here's what I'd suggest:

Step one: Eliminate the $4 million funding for each of the party conventions. If there's a bigger waste in the federal budget, I can't think of it offhand. It's only a million bucks a year per party, but it's the principle involved. Wasteful spending should be eliminated.

Step two: Reduce congressional staffing by 25 percent over a two- to five-year period. All reductions should be at the GS 9 level or above (i.e., don't just lay off receptionists, ticket takers and security guards). As far as possible, let attrition take care of the reduction, hence, the long transition period.

Step three: Reduce White House staffing by 25 percent ... See above; same rules.

Step four: Reduce Executive Branch and Judicial Branch staffing by 25 percent ... see above; same rules.

Step five: Eliminate federal funding for charities and state agencies by 50 percent over a 10-year period with the aim of eliminating them entirely. 

Step six: If implementation of these cuts to the bloated federal bureaucracy is not sufficient to eliminate the deficit and begin paying off the federal debt, rewrite the federal income tax code to make it simple and fair with just two or three tax rates and deductions only allowed for charitable contributions and child rearing expenses. Simplify the tax forms so that an entire return can fit on one page. Set the tax rates so that sufficient revenue comes in to pay for the smaller government and for paying off the federal debt.

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