FEDERAL BUDGET; Bloated Government

Article excerpt

It took a great president to do it, but Ronald Reagan proved that the expansion of the federal bureaucracy was not as certain as death and taxes.

Without a great leader, it may take a crisis to convince Americans that the federal government needs to be reduced.

That crisis is under way. Already, Medicare and Medicaid are under financial pressure. Financial experts agree that the nation will not be able to pay for its federal health care and Social Security without drastic tax increases or painful cuts in benefits.

But there is a third choice. A family, faced with those drastic measures, would start cutting.

The federal government doesn't work like a normal family, though. It works like a spendthrift, piling up debt on a series of credit cards, hoping the day of reckoning never comes.

A family can declare bankruptcy. A nation doesn't do that; it just prints money, which devastates the economy.

That is what led Chris Edwards, a director of tax policy studies with the libertarian Cato Institute, to write the book, Downsizing the Federal Government.

Before joining Cato, he was senior economist on the Joint Economic Committee of Congress.

Edwards proposes eliminating more than 100 agencies and programs to reduce federal spending from 20 percent of the nation's economy to 15 percent.

"Cutting the budget would avert the looming federal financial crisis and give Americans a stronger economy and a freer society," he writes.

PROGRAMS TO CUT

1. Wasteful, duplicative, obsolete, ineffective or subject to high levels of fraud and abuse. For instance, there are 50 different programs for the homeless in eight different federal agencies. And NASA's management problems are not only wasteful, but dangerous.

2. Programs that benefit special interests. This includes farm subsidies, not for family farmers, but major corporations that don't need the help.

3. Programs that damage society. For example, a study by Duke University researchers showed that regulations on the health care industry programs have annual benefits of $170 billion and annual costs of $339 billion.

4. Programs that belong closer to the citizens in state and local governments, such as education. Reagan once promised to abolish the U.S. Department of Education, but it has recently grown into another federal behemoth. Spending grew from $31 billion in 1995 to $71 billion in 2005.

5. Sell or lease federal buildings and land, while still protecting conservation lands. …