Thursday, January 28, 2010

Alternative to Bloated Federal Government

I was listening to Senator Judd Gregg respond to an inquisition by two MSNBC anchors' request for him to give specific alternatives to big government. Although Gregg did fine, he was obviously not afforded the time to give a specific response.

Barack Obama campaigned, in part, on the promise that he and his staff would go through the federal budget line by line and eliminate waste. Nice idea, but clearly never his intention.

So, I venture with this blog post to begin to lay the groundwork for a platform of what I am going to label a Constitutional Budget for our federal government.

The two MSNBC anchors kept pestering Gregg to identify what programs he would cut to help balance the budget, to reduce the size of government. They drummed up the old school liberal passions...should we cut funding to our children in school? should we cut programs for the poor? should we eliminate aid to the homeless?

If you read my blog from January 17th (two days before Scott Brown's victory), you know the story of Congressman Davy Crockett and his impassioned speech AGAINST government aid to the widow of a veteran of the War of 1812. I encourage you to read that blog entry, if you haven't already. But in summary, Crockett reminded his collegues then, and us today, that they, as public servants, have NO delegated authority to distribute any of the public funds on what are essentially charitable endeavors.

With that being said, some of my friends who read this blog, have asked me to now do what those two MSNBC anchors were asking of Gregg, identify what exactly SHOULD the federal government be spending the public's money on?

In pursuit of answering this question I have read from three sources: 1) mostly important source of all, the Constitution itself, 2) Setting Limits: Constitutional Control of Government by Lewis Uhler, and 3) Martin Gross' book, The Government Racket: All New Washington Waste from A to Z.

In the first source, the Constitution, the enumerated powers of Congress and the Federal Government are delineated in clear specificity. Where specifically NOT clear, the courts have often ruled that the Constitution should be interpreted to be restrictive of government powers, not inclusive.

For those who are not clear on what the enumerated powers of Congress are, please read the Constitution, especially read Article One, Section Eight (HERE).

In Setting Limits, Uhler ultimately concludes that there three tests to perform in determining what to allow the federal government to manage and fund.

First is the Practical Necessity Test. Uhler says, "It is impractical for any individual, business organization or state/local government to defend the entire nation, engage in diplomatic interchange with foreign countries, provide international security, etc."

Second is the Requirements/Values Test. In addressing this test, Uhler suggests several questions to ask when analyzing any expenditure of the federal government. First, What legal requirements underpin various federal functions? Is there a Constitutional requirement (see Art. 1, Sect. 8)? Is there a contractual obligation (i.e. - has the government entered into a contract with some other person(s)?) If neither of these requirements are there, then the "obligation" is essentially discretionary. Does the government HAVE such discretionary authority? He additionally thinks that we should always question whether something being spent by the federal government has any sense of payoff to it.

Third is the Performance Test. This is by far the test that would eliminate the greatest amount of government controls and spending. Some of the criteria espoused by Uhler in determining performance level are:

a)proneness to fraud and abuse,
b)proneness to error, inefficiency and waste,
c)conflict or lack of coordination with other programs,
d)failure to satisfy cost-benefit criteria,
e)unjustified expansion of benefit eligibility,
f)lack of uniform national benefit,
g)impractical/unattainable program goals,
h)programs best performed by state, local or private agencies.

Uhler's ideas are broad, wise and clearly delineated guidelines which would provide practical assistance in reducing the size, scope, power and budget of the federal government.

Martin Gross is far more simplistic in his ideas. He narrows that which the federal government should be allowed to spend money on to three areas:

1) Those activities clearly identified in the Constitution as the obligations authorized by we the people to the federal government such as military, diplomacy, interstate commerce and such.
2) Those expenses surrounding contractual obligations such as the existing national debt. Our government borrowed the money. We have an obligation to pay the interest on that debt and repay the money borrowed.
3) Those expenses where we have a moral obligation such as agreed upon payments to Social Security recipients and other such groups of people to whom we (meaning our government) have made a commitment. We are NOT, however, obligated to make additional similar commitments to other people.

Gross goes into an A to Z detailed accounting of dozens of wasteful spending projects from virtually every agency and department in the government. But the most memorable of all specific suggests he made is that the U.S. Government should be required by we the people to enact what is called a Zero Based Budget process. In short, this would require every agency and department in the government re-submit their budgets every year, specifically providing justifiable reason for each and every expende listed. Every company in America uses a ZBB every year. It is an essential part of making any company profitable and yet our government simply allows departments and agencies to request budget increases without any justification.

Remembering that Gross originally suggested this when he first wrote the book back in the 90s, he projected an annual budgetary savings of between $50 billion and $500 billion. That's $500 billion per year in 1995 terms. I'll leave this for you to mull on a bit as you understand how easily we could regain fiscal control and reduce government control over our lives.

I welcome critique of these ideas. If you have any thoughts on it, please share them.

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