Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Save! Save! Save!!

So, the Republicans want to cut $100 billion from the federal budget? No problem. Here are my proposals for EASILY reducing federal spending by $300 billion:

1. De-criminalize marijuana (at least) and cut back on the crazy drug war.

The U.S. federal government spent over $15 billion dollars in 2010 on the War on Drugs, at a rate of about $500 per second.

860,000 people arrested for marijuana-related offenses in 2009.


A 1999 study showed that 60,000 individuals were behind bars for marijuana use. This cost taxpayers $1.2 billion.

Nor does it reflect the number of individuals or the amount spent on those who had their probation or parole revoked for marijuana use. In total, in prosecuting and policing individuals with regards to marijuana, between $7 billion and $10 billion was spent — and that’s just last year.


$42 billion? Because that's what our current marijuana laws cost American taxpayers each year, according to a new study by researcher Jon Gettman, Ph.D. -- $10.7 billion in direct law enforcement costs, and $31.1 billion in lost tax revenues. And that may be an underestimate, at least on the law enforcement side, since Gettman made his calculations before the FBI released its latest arrest statistics in late September.


Savings: ~$20-50 billion (more, if we expand it beyond just marijuana)

2. End wars in Iraq/Afghanistan...

...according to the Pentagon, the cost of the Afghan War in 2012 will be almost $300 million a day or, for all 365 of them, $107.3 billion. Like anything having to do with American war-fighting, however, such figures regularly turn out to be undercounts. Other estimates for our yearly war costs there go as high as $120-$160 billion.


According to infoplease, we spent $65 billion in Iraq in 2010 and $105 billion in Afghanistan.

End those wars.

Savings: ~$150 billion

3. Other Defense cuts...

As we pointed out earlier this month, the Pentagon could save around $358 billion by the end of 2015 by implementing the following ten measures:

* Terminate the Marine Corps’s expeditionary fighting vehicle
* Permanently reduce the number of U.S. military personnel stated in Europe and Asia
* Redirect the majority of the Department of Defense’s planned efficiency savings toward reducing the baseline defense budget
* Cancel the V-22 Osprey program
* Roll back post-September 11, 2001 efforts to grow the ground forces
* Reduce the number of civilian DOD personnel concomitant with the reduction in military end strength
* Reduce procurement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
* Reform military personnel policies, including the military health care system for retirees
* Retire and do not replace two existing carrier battle groups and associated air wings
* Update the U.S. nuclear arsenal and missile defense systems to counter the threats of the 21st century


Savings: ~$100 billion

Three suggestions, saving us somewhere around $300 BILLION a year. Nearly ONE TRILLION DOLLARS in three years.

Sorta makes the silly "Stop funding NPR and save $400 million annually" seem pretty limp and flimsy.

By all means, boys and girls, let's cut our spending. But let's be serious about it.

Anyone else have some good spending cuts to make some serious progress in reducing the size of the gov't? Preferably ones that won't cost us MORE in the long run (like cutting the EPA or Education would do) and, also preferably, ones that aren't borne on the backs of the poor, sick, elderly and otherwise marginalized.


Alan said...

I think it is much more reasonable to defund the NEA ($150 million) than cutting projects like Sarah Palin's bridge to nowhere ($398 million).

Because that's called fiscal responsibility.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

By and large I agree with the set of proposals, although any defense reductions should be contingent upon the final withdrawal of American forces - all of them, no residual forces - from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen, as well as ending our participation in the NATO attacks on Libya. Once that's ended, sure enough, a total review and reform of DoD spending.

Craig said...

First, let me say that Blogger sucks. It eats me comments more often than not.

Now, I agree with Dan. $38.5 was a small step in the right direction. $100 isn't nearly enough.

1. I'm fine with decriminalizing weed in theory. I'm a little leery of unintended consequences, but I could live with it.

2. I'm not sure it's as simple as just ending the wars, but some sort of reasonable measured draw down seems workable.

I'm fine with getting rid of the EFV.

Permanently eliminate all US troops in Germany, Kosovo/Bosnia, and Korea for starters.

I'm fine with rethinking the defense budget. I'm fine with rethinking every cabinet dept. budget. I'll go further as suggest that they move to a zero base budget across the board.

I'm ambivalent about the V-22. However to cancel it means that you either continue to rely on increasingly older airframes (CH-53, CH-47) or come up with something else to fill the niche. But I'm fine with at least considering this.

I'd go with reexamine the post 9-11 troop levels. Roll back seems a bit simplistic.

How about reduce the number of federal employees regardless of whether they work in the DOD or not. I'd maybe exempt law enforcement, but I can't imagine that a 5% cut in the federal workforce would be a bad thing.

I could probably live with reduced production of the F-35.

Go for reforming personnel policies.

Not sure I'd support eliminating 2 carrier groups just like that. Possibly as a part of some sort of overall rethinking of the role of the navy, or something else. But I couldn't go there now.

By all means update the nuclear arsenal and missile defenses.


Lets eliminate Ethanol Subsidies and save $25-30 billion.

Let's eliminate public broadcasting, it's time has come and gone.

The NEA, should go. Continued funding of Planned Parenthood's medical services seems redundant in the new world of Obamacare, so that can go. So should the Gravina Island bridge.

By all means let's get serious about cutting the budget. But it seems like when each side only wants to cut the others sacred cows then it's hard to take any of them seriously.

Dan Trabue said...

I can take always take someone's relatively small cuts (NEA, NPR) much more seriously when they can agree to some serious larger cuts.

As to only one sided concessions, I think to be fair, saying I'm prepared to cut the NPR by 30% if you're prepared to cut the military by 30% is one thing. Saying, "If we agree to cut the military a bit, then you can agree to give up NPR" is another thing.

Yes, let's keep the cuts even handed and "from both sides" in reasonable measure.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

The V-22 Osprey is the biggest boondoggle since the B-1 bomber. It manifestly does NOT work, and is a danger to those who fly in it.

The whole naval rethinking is important. On the one hand, they are an excellent way of projecting power. On the other hand, carriers, like battleships, are the most vulnerable ships because they are the most likely target as well as being quite huge (relatively speaking). Thus, they require the services of a huge array of support and defense vessels. Eliminating the navy doesn't seem like an option, at least not yet, but rethinking it is important.

I think there is something to be said for eliminating the NEA, the NEH, and perhaps transferring those meager funds to the NIH, basic scientific research, NIMH, and other places.

CPB funding is really too small to be relevant, yet it serves a vital function.

Personally, I would eliminate NASA. Space exploration just isn't cost-justifiable. We aren't going anywhere out there any time soon.

Tobacco subsidies? Gone, along with ethanol subsidies. Price supports for most agricultural products, in fact, should go. Let big agribusinesses compete in a real free market for a change.

Dan Trabue said...

I'm fine with the idea of raising the retirement age. Raising it to 70 could eventually save ~$30 billion a year, according to this NPR story.

Craig said...

I'm not sure your equivalency between 30% DOD to 30% NPR is apples to apples, but I get your point.

I would say that I don't think anything is too small to matter.

Consolidate some smaller agencies functions and eliminate others, cool. Good start.

Eliminate or vastly reduce NASA sounds reasonable.

Tobacco subsidies gone. I'd be willing to consider phasing out other Ag subsidies over time. It seems too broad to just eliminate.

Raise retirement to 70, sounds good.

Dan Trabue said...

Well, lookee there. A bunch of agreement.

I think the Dems (or the GOP) would be wise to take the lead and advocate reasonable, across the board cuts, big ones where we can afford them.

I would NOT advocate cutting programs that SAVE us money, though. Education, seems to me, saves us money (as Jefferson noted, an uneducated populace costs us money). Prison rehab programs. Fire and police programs. These tend to save us money overall and I'd suggest we'd be counterproductive to cut them.

Craig said...

Yes, agreement. I'd love to see either side propose some serious significant cuts in a variety of areas and I'd love to see the other side not demagogue the cuts.

BTW when I say cuts, I don't mean cutting the rate of increase, I mean spending less next year than this year.

Edwin Drood said...

The world would be so much better off if the US military never left its borders. CUT IT!

Craig said...


I for one am not saying that at all. I am suggesting that Soviet armor rushing through the Fulda gap is not the threat it was 40 years ago. So maybe it's time to redeploy our military to deal with the 2011 situation not the 1960'3 situation. I fail to see what US troops provide that the EU couldn't do for itself. That is why I would'nt go along with some willy nilly pullout from Iraq and Afganistan. We still need to be there, but at the same time a strategy to achieve our goals while transitioning our troops out seems like the right strategy. I would suggest that we probably do need to keep some sort of reaction force in that area of the world to be able to respond to future events, but we should be looking toward the end game as we make these descisions.

Sorry, it seems reasonable that if we're looking to cut spending that we look at everything.

Dan Trabue said...

Oh, you think Edwin is being sarcastic? I thought we'd hit some more agreement.

Alan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Alan said...

Why do we still need all those nuclear subs?

Sure, a few for deterrent, but are all those nuclear submarines really still a big part of a "modern" Navy strategy?

And since I'm no military expert, can someone tell me why we have an Army and a National Guard when, in the modern world, they do the same thing these days? Seems like there's probably lots of savings to be found in eliminating some duplication of services if we just call the National Guard what they really are these days: the army.

I wonder how much money it would save to have Congress become a part time job? The less they're in session, they less likelihood of them screwing up yet again.

While I know political parties love to play the stupid game of trying to cut each other's sacred cows in order to distract the dumb public from the continuing disappearance of the middle class, tax hikes for the rich while increasing taxes on pensions, I'd take them much more seriously if they started by cutting their own salaries and benefits at the same or greater rate than the cuts they propose for public employees who do, you know, real work. Again, probably a drop in the bucket, budget-wise, but it would show a little seriousness.

But while several good ideas have been floated here, it isn't like we're geniuses. These ideas have been floated for years and nothing happens. It's an interesting discussion, I suppose, in an academic sense. But it is all just theater, fellas. You don't actually believe anything *real* is going to get done, do you?

John Farrier said...

I am totally and enthusiastically behind proposal #1 and somewhat behind proposal #3.

Further, I suggest that we eliminate every Federal program which is constitutionall prohibited, such as the Departments of Agriculture, the Interior, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing, non-military NASA programs, the EPA (which we need, but is actually unconstitutional), the NEA, the NEH, the DEA, NPR, and PBS. To name just a few off the top of my head.

And the insane war on drugs is, of course, spectacularly unconstitutional, destructive to our society, and expensive.

Sell off all federal lands and buildings not used for constitutional purposes and use the funds to make one-time block payments to retired people or people nearning retirement who are or will be dependent on Social Security. Then eliminate Social Security (which is also unconstitutional).

I'd make an exception for the SSA headquarters building in Washington itself. This building should be burned to the ground and the earth salted and cursed where it once stood by the victims of this enormous pyramid scheme forced upon the American people.

Dan wrote:

As to only one sided concessions, I think to be fair, saying I'm prepared to cut the NPR by 30% if you're prepared to cut the military by 30% is one thing. Saying, "If we agree to cut the military a bit, then you can agree to give up NPR" is another thing.

Please keep in mind that funding the military, which is an enumerated power of Congress, is Constitutional, whereas funding NPR is not.

Edwin Drood said...

whether left or right I think we all agree that a major change is needed. For all these programs can't we ask some simple questions to determine whether or not to keep or throw away.

1. Is it a legitimate function of the Federal Government as defined by the Constitution?

2. Historically has this program/policy provided a specific and measurable benefit to the Country?

take any program or policy, answer each question and act accordingly:

yes:yes -keep (military, interstate, post office)
yes:no - keep ??
no:yes - keep (pell grants, maybe drug war)
no:no - cut (maybe drug war, abortion services, healthcar)

John Farrier said...

Edwin wrote:

no:yes - keep (pell grants, maybe drug war)

I think that no:yes should mean cutting, rather than keeping. If a program is unconstitutional, we get rid of it, full stop. If it's a useful program, then amend the constitution to permit it and then reinstate it.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Most of John's list of "unconstitutional" programs are quite happily constitutional, some even been through court testing. Now, John may not agree, some other may not agree, but in the US it isn't up to some individual's notion of what constitutes constitutionality, but the courts. So, I find the idea a tad tendentious, to say the least, that there is some constitutional test outside the courts that determines whether something is constitutionally proper. One can, I think, have this discussion without taking a position that this or that or even most activities of the federal government are unconstitutional.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

One thing is a bit surprising - there is a general agreement that restructuring federal spending is necessary. Of course, without any discussion of revenue, we could cut all we want, but we wouldn't be any closer to sane fiscal policy.

Having said that, I think once we get to the nuts and bolts of it, there are going to be disagreements. By and large, I think the "war on drugs" has been an abject failure because it does not address the demand side. We have interdiction efforts, even advisors in coca-producing regions of South America, and yet tons of the stuff make it through anyway.

If, for example, we eliminated about a dozen or so Pentagon projects that are way over budget, don't work well or at all, and no longer fit our strategic or tactical needs, we could probably take that money, fund Pell Grants for low-income college students, and have enough money left over to still reduce the deficit.

Since this is all skylarking anyway, we should note that there are federal programs for marketing US goods overseas. Not just a few thousands or hundreds of thousands, but quite literally millions of dollars go to otherwise private companies so they can sell their wares in other countries. How does this in any way make sense?

Alan said...

Well, yeah, sane cuts are nice.

But agreeing on increasing taxes .... er sorry, "revenue enhancements" is probably a non-starter.

Except for taxing pensions, as our Republican governor just announced. It's a 4.25% tax on both public and private pensions to raise around 900 million.That's in addition to the proposed $1.8 billion tax *cut* for businesses.

I know that Republicans are all for tax breaks for the rich in order to screw the poor and middle class (because in America, everyone thinks they're upper middle class, or will be someday) but I'm just amazed that this guy is going up against the AARP.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

If the goal is to get the fiscal house in order, then "revenue enhancements" by any other name will be necessary. Even if only repealing the Bush-era tax cuts, letting the rates return to the Clinton-era levels that were historically low.

I think a debate is worth having on whether or not raising taxes during a weak economic recovery is a good idea. Personally, with the income tax code skewed so heavily toward the upper-income brackets, the same people who are relatively unaffected by the economic downturn, I don't have a problem with it. I think reducing some indirect taxes, as well as sales taxes, might also help.

Craig said...

I'd be much more comfortable with tax increases if we'd actually see some evidence of congress's ability to actually cut spending first.

I'm cynical enough to think that if they get more money, they'll just say "see we don't need to cut spending after all".

Marshall Art said...

That's not cynicism, Craig. That reality. It's been true of both parties for some time. It must start with spending cuts and spending cuts alone.

As to cuts like NPR, the amount we spend on NPR has nothing to do with it. Anything remotely like it needs to go because not only can we not afford to spend on such things that should be supporting itself in the free market (or by their pledge drives if they so choose), but it's outside the federal gov't's duties to support them.