That’s why it makes sense to think of smaller but still significant alternatives such as the strategy that Warner used when he was governor. It also makes sense because polls show Americans are still focused on cutting waste, fraud and abuse, and they won’t support a broader strategy until they’re convinced that has been done. Polls show convincingly and consistently that the typical American is willing to cut foreign aid spending but otherwise wants government that costs less, not less government.
If the Warner strategy were applied at the federal level, every agency that gets an appropriation would be required to reduce its spending by some percentage in 2012. An agency couldn’t propose the equivalent of closing the Washington Monument to the public, but like the Virginia DMV, it could reduce the hours or days it’s open. This would apply to both domestic and military agencies.
Mandatory programs wouldn’t be trimmed by cutting benefits or changing eligibility rules because there’s absolutely no support for making those types of massive changes in these programs. Agencies that manage these programs would instead cut spending by reducing overpayments to providers, dealing with fraud, stopping benefits to those who don’t qualify and finding other similar savings.
Revenues could also be included in this effort. The goal would be for the IRS to collect more money from those who owe taxes under current law but are evading the rules in some way.
Just like the changes made at the Virginia DMV, this process will not be painless. But as Warner demonstrated, they can have a material effect on both the government’s bottom line and, at least as important, on the politics of deficit reduction. If waste, fraud and abuse can be eliminated or minimized as a budget cause célèbre, the big fixes that many are seeking will become more likely. And, in the meantime, the deficit will be substantially lower than it otherwise would be.
Stan Collender is a partner at Qorvis Communications and founder of the blog Capital Gains and Games. He is also the author of “The Guide to the Federal Budget.”