More than 100 cost-savings proposals, due out from the Heritage Foundation on Thursday, could provide ammunition for conservative lawmakers in coming debates over restructuring entitlement programs, addressing the post-sequester discretionary spending caps, reauthorizing the Highway Trust Fund and raising the debt limit.
The right-of-center group will recommend 106 initiatives that it says could save trillions of dollars over a decade, including capping welfare spending, ending subsidies to military commissaries and scaling back federal transportation responsibilities, in a detailed report due to be distributed widely among GOP lawmakers.
“The proposals in this volume offer Members of Congress who pledged to get government spending under control specific recommendations that can make their promises concrete,” says the report, an advance copy of which was obtained by CQ Roll Call. “In this way, they can become the ‘conscience of Congress.’”
The Heritage Foundation argues that cutting spending promotes economic growth as well as saving money, saying in the report that many of the programs targeted for elimination “do not just cost money, they actually distort and retard economic growth because they tilt the playing field toward vested interests and engage in tasks in which the federal government has no business.”
Among the recommendations, the greatest savings would be realized from changes in income security programs, which could result in an estimated $3 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years.
But the report, titled “The Budget Book: 106 Ways to Reduce the Size & Scope of Government,” also recommends more than $300 billion in military spending cuts, with the caveat that all of the savings should be retained and reallocated for defense.
Some of the proposals,could draw bipartisan support, such as a recommendation to eliminate federal subsidies to military commissaries or grocery stores, which parallels a White House recommendation and would save $500 million in 2016 and $9.5 billion over a decade.
“The Obama administration’s recommendation to cut subsidies to defense commissaries and strive toward streamlining the various systems into a single network is on the right track,” the report says.
The Heritage book is initially aimed at the House and Senate Budget committees, which are both under GOP control for the first time in years and will soon begin work on their respective fiscal 2016 budget resolutions set to be unveiled in March. The organization of the report follows the functional categories or divisions of spending in the budget resolutions, including defense, international affairs, income security and others.
The defense proposals in particular could influence how the budget committees, appropriators and authorizing committees treat military spending, which is capped at $523 billion in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 under the 2011 debt limit law (PL 112-25). The recommendations include reducing the size of the Pentagon’s civilian workforce, saving $29 billion over a decade; modernizing the military compensation system, reducing spending by $64 billion; and eliminating Defense Department funding of non-military programs such as breast cancer research, saving more than $1 billion over a decade.
Long a staunch advocate of a strong national defense, the Heritage Foundation argues in the report that the Pentagon remains underfunded.
“The combination of too little defense spending and internal cost growth has resulted in declining military capabilities,” the report says, adding that the Defense Department “continues to reduce the size of its forces, investments in weapon systems are continuously delayed, and declining readiness means that the men and women in uniform are ill-prepared for combat.”
No Forward Motion
Many of the ideas will run into ferocious opposition from Democrats, such as scaling back means-tested welfare spending and capping it at the rate of inflation going forward.
The report says combined welfare spending including cash, food, housing, medical care and social services “has increased sixteenfold since the 1960s, and has cost taxpayers a total of $22 trillion, or three times the amount the government has spent on all military wars.” Heritage said the proposal would save $100 billion next year and $2.7 trillion over a decade, while requiring policymakers to direct welfare spending to the areas of greatest need.
Other recommendations may find little support among members of either party, such as a plan to limit spending from the Highway Trust Fund to the amount of revenue collected in the fund. The fund is expected to run out of money before the end of the year.
The report said Congress should “refocus the federal highway program to encompass only Interstate Highway System maintenance and expansion, and a few other federal priorities, letting the states or private sector take over the other activities if they value them.”
By doing so, Heritage said, Congress could save $17 billion next year and $179 billion over a decade while eliminating federal funding for “non-road, non-bridge projects, including bicycle and nature paths, sidewalks, subways and buses, landscaping, and related low-priority and purely local activities.”