Familiar Budget Savings Show Groundwork is Possible for Bipartisan Reform

President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget includes an ambitious set of recommendations to save taxpayer dollars by reducing or eliminating dozens of federal programs. A supplementary budget document, Major Savings and Reforms in the President’s 2018 Budget, included a list of the specified savings along with a justification for each.

If some of the programs on the list seem familiar to budget hawks, that’s because many were singled out for either elimination or reduction among the annual budgets offered during President Obama’s tenure. If political gamesmanship and parochial congressional interests can be set aside, there are areas for common ground.

Among the overlapping budget cuts:

  • Denali Commission: FY 2018 budget would reduce outlays from $15 million to $8 million. This independent agency awards federal grants for regional development in Alaska. Obama’s 2010 budget would have reduced its annual spending, and his 2011 budget would have terminated it altogether, noting that there are “competitive sources of funding that can more effectively accomplish the goals of these programs.”
  •  Comprehensive Literacy Development Grants: Eliminate for savings of $190 million. Several of Obama’s budget submissions would have terminated the program (then known as “Striving Readers”) as part of a consolidation with multiple overlapping literacy programs.
  • Rural Business and Cooperative Service: Eliminated for savings of $95 million. The program, which subsidizes business development and job training, has been included in the Government Accountability Office’s annual report on fragmentation, overlap, and duplication in the federal government, and it has not been able to show that it is effective. Obama also sought to consolidate the program for unspecified savings in his 2015 budget proposal.
  • Economic Development Administration: Eliminate for savings of $221 million. In his FY 2012 budget, Obama proposed to eliminate the Trade Adjustment Assistance for Firms program within the Economic Development Administration for savings of $16 million.
  •  Impact Aid Payments for Federal Property: Eliminate for savings of $67 million. President Obama also sought to eliminate this because “funds provided by this program are made to local educational agencies without regard to the presence of federally connected children, this program does not align with the policy of the Administration to target Impact Aid payments to the education of federally connected children and is a lower-priority program.”
  •  International Education and Foreign Language Studies Domestic and Overseas Program: Eliminate for savings of $72 million. In the 2017 budget, the Obama administration sought reductions of $5 million in the Overseas part of the program.
  • Teacher Quality Partnership: Eliminate for savings of $43 million. For FY 2012, the Obama administration sought to eliminate this grant ($43 million) as part of a consolidation with overlapping programs.
  • Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility: Reform for savings of $61 million. For FY 2013, the Obama administration sought to realign this program (which converts plutonium from disassembled weapons into a mixed oxide fuel) for a savings of $26 million.
  •  Self-Help and Assisted Homeownership Opportunity Program: Eliminate for savings of $56 million. Obama’s proposals for 2012 and 2013 also would have eliminated this program, citing the existence of “larger programs to address the same needs are more efficient and place a lower administrative burden on the Department of Housing and Urban Development.”
  • Wildlife Refuge Fund: Eliminate for savings of $13 million. The FY 2013 budget would also have terminated this program that offsets local tax loss due to federal ownership of land, calling it a “lower priority program” and citing a related funding source through the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program.
  • Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: Eliminate for savings of $300 million. President Obama sought reductions of $50 million in this program through his budgets for FY 2016 and FY 2017.

With the current and projected budget deficits, lawmakers should seek ways to reduce spending – whether through specific cuts like the ones above, across-the-board cuts and caps on growth, or even special sessions with rules to expedite consideration of reforms – rather than punting problems down the road for the next generation of taxpayers.