Deficit Reduction Recommendations: A Real Page Turner

Photo (cc) by David Paul Ohmer

You’ve probably seen news stories about the president’s bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform‘s recommendations to reduce the federal deficit by $4 trillion by 2020. (If you haven’t here’s one from CNN Money.) But you really need to look through the commission’s report, especially the draft version. Not because its recommendations will be acted on by Congress – although 60 percent of the commission’s members voted for the changes, that’s not enough for the commission to present its recommendations to Congress for a vote.

The reason you need to peruse the report is to see just how much money our government wastes each and every year. It’s truly mind-boggling, not to mention blood-boiling.

Here’s the actual report (PDF) from the Commission. But as I mentioned above, you should also compare this final report to the draft version (PDF) and see what didn’t make it into the final report. If you can, take an hour and read them both: They’re not written in legalese and are pretty straightforward. But if you don’t have the time, here are a few of many shocking revelations. As you look at these things, remember the situation our nation is in: drowning in debt. Imagine the things you’d cut out of your family’s or business’s budget if you were in the same situation.

For example, if you were in debt trouble, would you be increasing your household budget?

Recommendation 1.10.1 Reduce Congressional and White House budgets by 15 percent. Although the nation’s economy continues to struggle, there’s no recession in Washington. Like most areas of government, the budgets for Congress and the Executive Office of the President have grown significantly in recent years. For example, spending on the legislative branch rose close to 50 percent from FY 2000 through FY 2010. Last year Congress gave itself a nearly four percent budget increase. In order to tackle our impending fiscal crisis, everyone must sacrifice – especially Washington. The Commission’s proposal would reduce the budgets for Congress and the White House by 15 percent. This proposal will save $800 million in 2015.

If your workplace was in debt trouble, how would you feel about management – the same ones who got you into this mess – giving themselves an automatic raise?

Recommendation 1.10.2 Impose a three-year freeze on Member pay. Unlike most Americans, members of Congress benefit from an automatic salary increase every single year – deserved or not. Before Congress can ask the American people to sacrifice, it should lead by example. The Commission recommends an immediate three-year salary freeze for all members of Congress.

If you owed more than you could pay back, would you buy a new car? Would you print stuff when you could share it online for much less?

Recommendation 1.10.5 Reduce federal travel, printing, and vehicle budgets. Despite advances in technology, federal travel costs have ballooned in recent years, growing 56 percent between 2001 and 2006 alone. Government fleets, meanwhile, have grown by 20,000 over the last four years. Printing costs are still higher than necessary despite technological advancement. We propose prohibiting each agency from spending more than 80 percent of its FY 2010 travel budget and requiring them to do more through teleconferencing and telecommuting. We also recommend a 20 percent reduction in the nearly $4 billion annual federal vehicle budget, excluding the Department of Defense and the Postal Service. Additionally, we recommend allowing certain documents to be released in electronic-only form, and capping total government printing expenditures. This proposal will save $1.1 billion in 2015.

If your household really needed to cut back, would you raid the cookie jar for something that just benefited you or your friends?

1.10.7 Eliminate all congressional earmarks. In FY 2010, Congress approved more than 9,000 earmarks costing taxpayers close to $16 billion. Earmarks are not competitively bid and are not subject to accountability metrics, making it difficult to measure effectiveness or conduct cost-benefit analysis. Many of these earmarks are doled out by members of Congress for parochial concerns in their districts and to special interest groups. Examples of parochial earmark spending include $1.9 million for a Pleasure Beach Water Taxi Service in Connecticut, $900,000 for a program encouraging Oklahoma students to role-play how to make tough choices as members of Congress, and $238,000 for ancient-style sailing canoes in Hawaii, among countless others. The Commission recommends the elimination of all congressional appropriations and authorizing earmarks as well as limited tax and tariff benefits. This proposal will save at least $16 billion in 2015

If you were running out of money, would you take more trips?

Recommendation (in the draft, but not the final report) Cut federal travel budget. One of the first things companies cut when faced with budget problems is travel. Yet, despite our record deficits, government expenditures for travel have grown by leaps and bounds. For example, in FY2001, federal agencies spent approximately $9 billion on travel for mission-related business around the world. In FY2006, that figure reached just over $14 billion — an increase of 56 percent.

Some of the recent increases may be due to fluctuations in oil prices and the demands of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even so, the fact remains that year after year, agencies continue to spend more on travel than they project (both before and after 9/11). Furthermore, the fact that travel spending is rising at such a rapid pace would seem to be counterintuitive, considering that the last decade witnessed remarkable improvements in telecommunications technology (including video conferencing, webcasting, etc.) that should have decreased the need for in-person, face-to-face meetings and on-site visits.

If you’re in debt danger, how do you feel about paying taxes to keep 150,000 soldiers overseas?

Recommendation 51. (Not in the final report) Reduce military personnel stationed at overseas bases in Europe and Asia by one-third. The United States permanently stations about 150,000 military personnel on the hundreds of U.S. bases in Europe and Asia. Reducing this presence by one-third would save around $8.5 billion in 2015 while still maintaining a substantial military force on both continents. The Army has considered reducing its four combat brigades in Europe to two, but presently the budget includes funds for current force levels, likely to result in a reduction of about 33,000 in Europe and another 17,000 in Korea. Since only a minority of the forces in Europe deploy for the Afghan and Iraq wars, the additional forces required to support overseas stationing does not seem cost-effective, and the services have sufficient air and sea assets to deploy forces from the United States. This option would also reduce force levels in Korea as well as reverse the Defense Department’s current plans to build up the infrastructure in Korea to support dependents in support of a new policy to convert the longstanding policy of one year unaccompanied tours to a three-year tour with dependents. Variants of this option were supported in 2009 by both former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Jim Jones.

These things are the tip of the iceberg – read the reports: especially the draft version that contains many recommendations that didn’t make it into the final report. You’ll probably reach the same conclusion I did. Namely, while the needs of the United States are different and vastly more complicated than those of a typical American household, we got into this deficit mess courtesy of a Congress that squanders money that isn’t theirs to waste. And until we get these people under control, as a nation we have nowhere to go but further into debt.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
9 Items Under $25 That Will Keep Your House Clean
9 Items Under $25 That Will Keep Your House Clean

We’ve rounded up some of the best products for cleaning your bathroom, kitchen and every other room.

10 Products That Will Help You Save Money
10 Products That Will Help You Save Money

Sometimes, spending a little cash right now can save you a lot of money down the road.

10 Food Staples That Are Easy and Cheap to Make Yourself
10 Food Staples That Are Easy and Cheap to Make Yourself

Making any of these key foods yourself will improve meals — and your budget.

7 Gadgets Under $60 That Can Boost Your Health
7 Gadgets Under $60 That Can Boost Your Health

These Amazon finds can help ease foot aches, boost energy and even protect your heart.

10 Places Where Social Security Offers the Best Standard of Living
10 Places Where Social Security Offers the Best Standard of Living

These U.S. counties offer retirees a chance to stretch their benefit checks while enjoying their golden years.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership
How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership

The warehouse club often has some of the cheapest gas in town. Here’s how you can get it as a nonmember.

10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home
10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home

If you like to keep things simple, avoid these purchases.

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

Vacuums from this brand can last a half-century, if not longer — and they’re hot on the resale market.

A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today
A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today

A few steps can keep your phone from ringing when a spammer calls.

This Company Makes the Best Tires in America
This Company Makes the Best Tires in America

Driver satisfaction with tires is at an all-time high, but one brand stands out.

Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?
Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?

Knowing when to claim can help you maximize benefits.

36 Things That Will Be Obsolete Soon
36 Things That Will Be Obsolete Soon

The writing is on the wall for dozens of things we have grown up with.

This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance
This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance

One type of pain is especially associated with cognitive decline.

8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon
8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon

The giant retailer shines when it comes to these things, from basics to hard-to-find specialty goods.

Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs
Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs

Don’t let these health care expenses catch you off guard in retirement.

8 Federal Income Tax Breaks for Homeowners
8 Federal Income Tax Breaks for Homeowners

Some of these deductions and credits are available to a wide swath of homeowners.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food
5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food

Anyone can take advantage of these resources.

10 Types of Retirement Income That Are Not Taxable
10 Types of Retirement Income That Are Not Taxable

There are lots of things Uncle Sam can’t touch — so long as you play by the rules.

10 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
10 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home
6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home

Stashing money around the house is anything but harmless.

5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic
5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic

Sometimes the brand-name version is clearly superior.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.