Our friends at Coalition to Reduce Spending hosted an event last week examining “What Will It Take to Cut Spending?” Dr. Tom Price, the Chairman of the House Budget Committee kicked off the evening, driving home the gravity of the issue saying that we “… Ought to focus on the consequential nature of reducing the deficit and balancing the budget so that we have a system that creates the greatest amount of opportunity for success for the greatest number of people” to fulfill the American dream.
He went on to say that not following the budget is irresponsible and without action, automatic spending - Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and interest on the debt - will soon crowd out any other spending needs. He urged the grassroots to demand that Congress stick to a plan and welcomed feedback on his Restoring the Trust for All Generations project.
Following Dr. Price’s remarks, a panel featuring Representative Mark Sanford (R-SC), Dr. Barry Poulson (Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Colorado-Boulder), Romina Boccia (Heritage Foundation), and Jonathan Williams (American Legislative Exchange Council - ALEC) unpacked the options to rein in federal overspending and constrain the growth of government. Departing from the typical “waste, fraud, and abuse” strategy, most of the focus was on institutional and structural reforms that would impose a framework of responsible budgeting.
Boccia conjured the image of Ulysses resisting the call of the Sirens, saying that, “Fiscal rules help lawmakers resist spending more than that otherwise would.”
She explained how countercyclical policies and spending limits don’t just increase stability and economic growth, they also can blunt the effect of special interests by enabling lawmakers to say “no” to lobbyists.
Williams suggested Washington could learn from the states when it comes to budgets, noting that all but one state has a balanced budget requirement of some form, and urging federal lawmakers to be “more like Texas than California.” Referencing the ALEC “State Budget Reform Toolkit,” Williams advised moving toward a priority based budget, constitutional taxpayer protections and spending limits, budget transparency, a budget time-out for lawmakers to set aside other business and read the budget, and focusing on efficiency by eliminating long-vacant positions and bringing back the Byrd Committee.
Dr. Paulson, an expert in state fiscal policy and economic development, advocated for a federal Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) and the enactment of other fiscal rules that tie spending to population and inflation. He described how dynamic models illustrated that limiting expenditures and achieving fiscal sustainability promoted the growth necessary to pay down debt and deal with the growing entitlement crisis, just as Sweden and Switzerland accomplished in the past.
Finally, Representative Sanford reminded attendees that to achieve these major reforms, it was essential to communicate the need the need for change and urgency to voters, demonstrating what is in it for them. Recalling the lessons from his own tense budget negotiations as Governor of South Carolina, Sanford said that you have to be willing to lose, be sure the pain is shared, and even, when in a pinch: carry a pig.
Together, the speakers all drove home that with our future prosperity on the line, it’s time to put some big ideas into motion - and perhaps make friends with a local farmer.