Fiscal conservatism is important. It’s just unpopular to say so in a political culture whose right wing has, by one elite member’s own admission back in ’81, consciously equated the concept with racially-targeted tax and immigration policies. Donald Trump has simply made the unspoken connection more explicit than it’s been in decades, to the point where fiscal conservatism is just one of the many terms distorted by the Orwellian administration of climate change denial, alternative facts and “Fake News!”
Their latest distortion has been the trickle-down mythmaking used to sell a sweepingly one-sided tax cut that benefits corporate shareholders at the expense of middle-to-lower-class families whose cuts are doomed to expire. Nonpartisan analysts predict the bill will increase the national deficit by at least $1 trillion over a decade, and it’s Paul Ryan’s stated intent to use the situation he knowingly worsened to justify cutting federal healthcare and anti-poverty programs.
Ryan and the rest of Big Brother GOP want you to believe fiscal conservatism means policies that hurt the poor and historically disenfranchised. But two plus two does not (yet) equal five, and to prove it here are a few examples of the common-sense federal budget cuts Republicans would make if they cared about saving taxpayer money rather than placating corporate interests.
Data from Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW)’s 2017 “Prime Cuts” Summary
1. Eliminate the Sugar Subsidy
This program establishes a minimum price for sugar sold in the U.S., about double that of the world average, and allows a small cartel of sugar processors to limit how much can be sold. As a result, American consumers pay about $3.5 million more each year on artificially-inflated prices, while 132,000 jobs have been lost in sugar-using industries between 1997 and 2014.
✅ Five-Year Savings: $6 billion
2. Eliminate the F-35 program
Republicans are happy to attack entitlements, but when it comes to military spending—more than half of the $1.2 trillion federal discretionary budget—they’re unwilling to make the most basic reforms. Case in point: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, now six years behind schedule, $170 billion over budget and forecast to exceed $1 trillion in lifetime maintenance costs. That didn’t stop Congress from giving the program another earmark (circumventing merit-based fund allocation processes) for four additional aircrafts.
✅ Five-Year Savings: $2.5 billion
3. Reduce Medicare Improper Payments
Medicare is subject to the highest amount of improper payments of any federal program. Fortunately, there’s already a proven way to reduce that waste through Recovery Audit Contractors (RAC), which have an accuracy rate of 96 percent, returning more than $11 billion in overpayments to the Medicare Trust Fund. Efforts by Congress to gut RACs led to an increase in improper payments in 2016—which Republicans like Ryan may find useful to justify cutting the program rather than simply reforming it.
✅ Five-Year Savings: $20.6 billion
4. Eliminate Justice Assistance Grants (JAG)
Here’s how the Bush Administration evaluated JAG, an unfocused law enforcement program that’s become a magnet for earmarks costing taxpayers $1.8 billion since 2001: “There are no meaningful goals for the program. Performance measures are still under development. Grantees are not required to report on performance. As a result, it is difficult to determine what the program is accomplishing.”
✅ Five-Year Savings: $2.6 billion
5. Repeal the Davis-Bacon Act
This 1931 act requires contractors to pay employees a “prevailing wage” on federal projects, which in practice costs taxpayers $512 million annually by excluding lower-paid, often minority workers (one Democrat lawmaker arguing for the act complained of “cheap colored labor”). The act was already suspended to facilitate reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina, and the Heritage Foundation estimates suspending it again “would allow the government to build more and hire 160,000 new workers without increasing the deficit.”
✅ Five-Year Savings: $6.3 billion
6. End the War on Drugs
Considering how often Republicans complain about paying for the health and education services of undocumented immigrants, you’d think they might notice the billions of dollars more we spend annually trying and imprisoning nonviolent drug offenders. The nation spends more than $51 billion each year on a decades-long drug war that has not produced results. The War on Drugs has simply led to more global violence, police militarization, widespread surveillance and disproportionate incarceration rates among minorities, despite figures estimating people of color use illicit drugs at the same rate as whites. Taxing illicit drugs the way we do tobacco and alcohol would raise $46.7 billion in federal revenue annually. It’s difficult to say how much a change as drastic as ending the bloated War on Drugs would save the nation in the long term.
✅ Five-Year Savings: Unknown
“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’… So you say stuff like, uh, ‘Forced busing, states’ rights,’ and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites . . . ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.’” — Lee Atwater, Republican National Committee Chairman and Adviser to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, 1981