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4 Things Our Government Should Stop Wasting Money On

Though catastrophic prophesies of a government gone bankrupt are paper tigers, there are still plenty of things progressives would like to see cut.
 
 
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A Tea Party-infused GOP is calling for major cuts to federal spending. But for most Republicans, the newfound concern with deficits is demonstrably cynical. Just look at the deafening silence from the Right that greeted the $1.2 trillion (and growing) deficit that President Bush ran up. Conservative fearmongering is mostly an excuse to plunder the safety net. “The idea that somehow we’re going to be Greece is just flat out silly,” says Dean Baker, an economist at the Center for Economic Policy Research. “Basically, it’s a cheap scare tactic to force austerity.”

Though catastrophic prophesies of a government gone bankrupt are paper tigers, there are still plenty of things progressives would like to see cut: a sprawling defense budget that funds two wars and hundreds of military bases world-wide; a criminal justice system that spends billions to lock up millions of (too often black) Americans; and corporate welfare in the form of subsidies for oil and gas companies, and for industrial agriculture. Harmful government spending is a much bigger problem than wasteful government spending. Positive social spending is all too scarce, and constantly under pressure.

While the Tea Party has presented itself as an anti-establishment force in politics, on policy, it has been establishment enhancing: “tough on the deficit” while spending billions on war, prisons and corporate welfare. When so-called fiscal conservatives support harmful government spending, progressives should point out the contradiction and hold them accountable.

Authentic libertarians do not have a major presence in the Republican Party. Not today and certainly not before last November. In the 2000s, Ron Paul, a critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the drug war, was marginalized within the Republican Party. Rand Paul, the congressman’s son, is the new Republican senator from Kentucky. The two are close, but Rand has without a doubt distanced himself from his father on foreign policy and the drug war, though he has done so quietly. He tends to emphasize the aspects of his father’s libertarianism that resonate within today’s Right and de-emphasizes or equivocates on the rest.

The remainder of the new Tea Party caucus on Capitol Hill is even worse news: they tend to be across-the-board more conservative than their colleagues.

But if there was a time to make cuts to harmful spending, this is it. The fervor of the Tea Party base and the drum beat on the deficit means that just about any proposal for cuts might at least get a hearing.

“I think if there are left-wing folks, they’ll find Tea Party allies for anything that involves cuts,” says Dave Weigel, a writer for Slate who chronicles the conservative movement. “Anyone who comes out and says 'This is a wasteful program we can get rid' of  will get the attention of these new members of Congress.”

Is there an opportunity for bipartisan reform? If there is, it’s just much, much smaller than you’d expect given the foreboding talk of fiscal apocalypse. But since Republicans have put budget cuts on the agenda, progressives should offer proposals of their own. An aggressive campaign to cut harmful public spending could deliver results and at the same time leave social spending intact. When it comes to protecting the programs that matter, the best defense is a good offense.

1. War and the Defense Budget

The monies that pay for the Pentagon’s global operations and two ongoing wars take up at least one-fifth of the federal budget. Though the anti-war movement that challenged the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq has largely fallen apart, congressional Democrats have shown an increasing willingness over the past year to challenge Obama’s troop buildup in Afghanistan. Short of fundamentally downsizing the Pentagon or defunding the American empire, Obama and a number of Republicans have called for cutting wasteful and ineffective weapons programs. But this is one infamously resilient budget item. It took years to kill the F-22 jet, whose production Lockheed Martin had ingeniously spread across 46 states to ensure political support.

 
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