A couple of weeks ago President Obama challenged Republicans who are calling for less federal spending and a smaller federal government to state exactly what they would cut.
Well, I’m not a Republican — I’m an independent these days — but I have a few modest proposals along those lines myself:
1) Repeal Obamacare. That will save, depending on the estimate, $1 trillion to $3 trillion over the next 10 years, or $100 billion to $300 billion a year. (Actual savings would be somewhat less, because some aspects of Obamacare, like the ban on refusing coverage for a prior condition, would survive any serious attempt at repeal.)
Repealing Obamacare is an obvious place to begin cutting, because a) the savings are large, b) over time it will make a bad budget situation ghastly, and, most important, c) a majority of the American People — up to 60 percent in some polls — favor repealing it.
Cutting federal spending and big government is popular in principle, but finding programs in the federal budget that a majority of the people actually want to cut is almost unheard of. That puts Obamacare in a class by itself.
2) End the war on drugs.
Specifically, repeal federal laws against marijuana and leave drug policy to the states — just as alcohol policy was left to the states after prohibition. Allow the states to make hard drugs like heroin available to registered addicts, as Britain does. Dismantle the Drug Enforcement Administration and pardon nonviolent offenders in federal prisons for drug crimes.
According to the website Drugsense, the feds spend about $20 billion a year on the drug war, so getting rid of it will save $200 billion over the next 10 years. A federal tax on legal pot would bring in a few billion more a year. (If states followed the federal lead, they would free up about $400 billion over the next 10 years.)
3) Put NASA into suspended animation. Granted, NASA has been a source of enormous national pride, and it does really great science experiments, like sending men to the moon, building a space station and putting big telescopes in orbit. But until we bring down the price of space flight by a couple orders of magnitude, NASA’s $18 billion-a-year budget — at least $180 billion over the next decade — is a luxury we can’t afford. So until space flight becomes as practical and economical as air travel, or, minimally, as practical and economical as DC-3-era air travel, put both NASA and its space station into moth balls.
4) Privatize the war on terror. Don’t demonize companies like the security company previously known as Blackwater. Issue them Letters of Marque and Reprisal (as provided for by the Constitution) and let them have a go at privateering against Iranian oil tankers. At $80 a barrel, the cargo of a big crude carrier would be worth more than $300 million. Uncle Sam could ask for, say, 50 percent of the booty in return for issuing the letters. If the concept of privateering were broadened beyond shipping — and what concept in the Constitution hasn’t been broadened over the years? — to, say, seizing Pakistani nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles, large parts of the war on terror could be outsourced and, in some cases, turned into profit centers.
5) Produce and sell the oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Ditto the outer continental shelf.
There are an estimated 10 billion barrels of crude in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. At current prices, $70 to $80 a barrel, they would fetch between $700 billion and $800 billion. The federal government shouldn’t grant leases to oil companies in return for royalties that are relative pittances. Instead, it should have the Army Corps of Engineers produce the oil and sell it on the world market. The ensuing gusher of petrodollars should go into a sovereign wealth fund, which is what countries like Norway and Kuwait do with theirs. The proceeds from the sovereign wealth fund could be used to offset the expected cost increases of Social Security and Medicare as the Boomers go geezer.
And in order to ensure that the wildlife in the wildlife refuge aren’t the big loser in this, for every square mile of land taken out of the refuge for oil production, add five square miles somewhere else.
Cutting the federal budget isn’t rocket science. Except in the case of NASA, of course.