The new year began with good news and bad news, both pertaining to the same subject.
America didn't fall of the fiscal cliff — the good news. The story will no longer capture the headlines and top spot on radio and television broadcasts, more good news for those who believe that too much coverage of a single event eventually dilutes its impact.
The bad news, however, is that Republicans came away empty-handed, at least for the time being, in their attempt to limit federal spending. When the deficit has exceeded $1 trillion for four straight years, as it has, then the quid pro quo — spending cuts in exchange for tax increases — is essential
On the way to avoiding the cliff, the Republicans took a beating. Coming on top of the November pounding the GOP suffered, party leaders should learn a lesson that may enhance their chances in future elections and congressional dealings with their Democratic foes. Namely, Republicans have to do a better job of making their case, which they didn't do in the months leading up to the November election or in the final weeks of the fiscal cliff negotiations.
Originally, the debate was intended not only to raise taxes on some high-income earners, but also to cut spending. President Obama got his tax hikes, but the GOP came away holding the bag. Unless I missed something, the Republicans never mounted an effective argument for what wasteful federal spending must be cut, and therefore never created the necessary leverage to strike the deal they set out to make. Instead, the GOP — and specifically House Speaker John Boehner — let the Democrats — principally President Obama — define the debate.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., recently said that he could eliminate $600 billion from the budget and no one in Washington save a few policy wonks would notice. Only a small handful of American are aware of Coburn's invaluable 202-page "Wasteful Spending — 2012." Coburn listed dozens of examples of crazy spending that would outrage every American if they knew about them.
Among them are $325,000 for an effort to build a lifelike Robo-Squirrel, and $27 million for a project that included pottery classes for Moroccan artists translated by someone who was not fluent in English — and using materials that cannot be purchased in Morocco. My personal favorite is a $516,000 grant to devise a video game "Prom Night," which allows users to relive their prom experiences.
Here are two more examples announced too late to be included in Coburn's exposé. One, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced a $2.2 million grant to Haiti and Peru to strengthen their labor unions. And three weeks ago the Labor Department awarded $35 million to fight child labor in Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Haiti, Tanzania, Burkina Faso and Indonesia. The United States correctly opposes child labor, but those borrowed millions could be put to better use in the United States.
To prioritize spending and eliminate waste, Coburn urges that the budget be subject to a line item review. Making choices about which programs to cut, Coburn insists, is easy, reduces debt and saves money for the truly important entitlements.
Coburn summarized: "The problem in Washington is politicians are very specific about what we should fund but not specific about what we should cut."
Coburn's entire report is available on his press page's website, www.coburn.senate.gov.
Joe Guzzardi is a fiscal conservative who worked for the Lodi Unified School District until his 2008 retirement. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.