U.S. PIRG, National Taxpayers Union suggest cuts for supercommittee

The House wing of the U.S. Capitol. Photo: Jim Armstrong, Flickr

Unlikely allies — the National Taxpayers Union and U.S. Public Interest Research Group — have united to show the Congressional supercommittee where it can cut a trillion dollars in federal spending.

As part of a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling last month, Congress created a 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or the supercommittee, that is charged with identifying $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction by Nov. 23. If the group fails to agree on spending cuts, there will be automatic across-the-board reductions in spending on defense and domestic programs.

U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), is a non-profit, public interest advocacy organization. The National Taxpayers Union advocates for lower taxes and smaller government.

In a joint effort the groups say should show the politically-polarized Congress how to work together, the coalition produced a report this week with more than 50 recommendations for ways to save through reforming entitlement programs, ending agricultural and energy subsidies and outdated military programs, and by making government more efficient.

Cutting subsidies for agriculture and energy production could save $214.9 billion over the next decade, the groups said in the report.

The federal crop insurance program, for example, distorts the market for commodity crops by encouraging over-planting and is unnecessary because there are other mechanisms for insuring farmers against loss, the groups said. Ending crop insurance could save $77 million, according to data from the Congressional Budget Office.

Ending the tax credit oil companies get when they mix ethanol into gasoline would save $60 million, the group said; this reform already has strong bipartisan support.

They also recommend eliminating U.S. Department of Agriculture funding for Dairy Management, a marketing initiative that uses about $50 million a year to promote consumption of dairy products. Dairy Management was used recently to help Domino’s Pizza devise and market a waistline-destroying pie with 40 percent more cheese.

“Seventy-four percent of federal agricultural subsidies go to just the four percent that are the largest agri-businesses,” said Meghan Hess, program associate for the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan (PIRGIM). “When we talk about cutting these subsides we are not talking about hurting the little guy.”

Ending certain unnecessary weapons programs and improving military procurement processes could save taxpayers $428.8 billion over the next decade, they found. Some of these changes could be as easy as adopting recommendations made by the House Armed Services Committee and the Department of Defense.

The coalition is calling on the supercommittee to adopt efficiency recommendations made by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Gates has identified $100 billion in savings that could be achieved through improved business practices, consolidating IT infrastructure and reducing work force, including contractors.

“There needs to be continued focus on defense spending,” said Pete Sepp, Executive Vice President of National Taxpayers Union. “… [T]he Cold War has ended, the Gulf War has ended, we have stabilized and are winding down operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and there is a pervasive problem with military procurement.”

One example from the report: The U.S. could save at least $37 billion over ten years if the military would stop ordering obsolete spare parts.

The largest potential area of saving identified by the group is in the area of improving government operations by reforming federal IT management.

The slow-moving federal bureaucracy has not yet taken advantage of the efficiencies of network computing, the groups said.

“We are trying to tell members of the supercommittee to get ahead of the curve and start thinking about cloud computing which could save a lot of money,” Sepp said.

Newer computing technology could allow the government to close up to 800 of its 2,100 data centers and save an estimated $160 billion over the next decade, the group claims.

“The diverse nature of these cuts are their best recommendation,” Sepp said, “the fact that we are making suggestions in every area of government. Our message is if we can do this so can you.”

The full set of recommendations is available here (PDF).