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Congress should have no trouble trimming $1 trillion from the federal budget, according to a report released today by two watchdog groups that usually disagree on policy matters.
In “Toward Common Ground: Bridging the Political Divide to Reduce Spending,” the liberal consumer advocate U.S. PIRG and the conservative nonprofit National Taxpayers Union outline 54 programs, subsidies and government inefficiencies that the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction could trim as it tries to make at least $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next decade.
Despite their frequent disagreement on fiscal issues, the two groups found areas of commonality and suggested that the members of the super committee will be able to do the same.
“For all of the partisan rancor in Washington, there is actually a lot of agreement between groups on the right and left about where the waste is,” Andrew Moylan, vice president of government affairs at the National Taxpayers Union, told reporters on a conference call.
The report doesn’t suggest tax increases that Democrats want to consider and makes only minor tweaks to entitlement programs that Republicans say are in need of serious reform. It instead recommends making major cuts to corporate subsidies and military programs that Moylan called “low-hanging fruit.”
“They ought to start with the stuff that’s easier to get rid of than harder to get rid of, where the political battles exist,” he said.
For instance, the report identifies $37 million that could be saved by ending what it contends are obsolete military supplies. Others suggestions are likely to meet resistance, such as $215 billion in subsidies for areas such as ethanol farming and oil and gas research. Many of the recommended cuts are to programs with strong support from special interest groups.
“There will no doubt be intense lobbying to continue the handouts,” said Dan Smith, a tax and budget associate with U.S. PIRG. Still, he added, “These are choices that shouldn’t be too tough to make.”
Smith argued that the super committee, which has to agree on cuts by Thanksgiving to avoid automatic reductions, should prioritize programs that help individuals over those that benefit corporations.
“The real threat here is across-the-board cuts that make no distinction between programs like Pell Grants that benefit millions of students across the country and subsidies for Exxon Mobil,” he said. U.S. PIRG, which was founded by consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, has around 100 student chapters.
Both groups plan to promote the report through their large grass-roots memberships. The report promotes the NTU’s goal of achieving a more limited government and tax structure, as well as U.S. PIRG’s defense of programs that benefit consumers over special interests.
“We believe there is a broader consensus than just our two groups,” Moylan said.