Taxes & Spending

HUMAN EVENTS Asks Congress:Should Republicans Eliminate Any Departments?

The Congressional Budget Office last week projected a fiscal 2005 federal deficit of $368 billion. The same day, the White House projected a $427 billion deficit. (Unlike the CBO, the White House included in its calculations President Bush’s new $80 billion request to fund U.S. activities in Iraq and Afghanistan). Back in 1996, the Republicans adopted a platform that called for eliminating four Cabinet-level departments, including Commerce, Education, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development. It also called for defunding or privatizing the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Legal Services Corporation. The platform was changed in 2000, and no longer recommends eliminating any department or agency. With Republicans in control of the White House and Congress, and with President Bush’s budget due on February 7, HUMAN EVENTS Assistant Editor Robert B. Bluey asked Republican senators if they would consider returning to the goals outlined in the 1996 platform.

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The 1996 Republican platform suggested eliminating the departments of Commerce, Energy, Education and HUD. Facing a deficit of more than $300 billion, with Republicans in control of the government, should any of those departments be cut? SEN. RICHARD BURR (R.-N.C.): I think right now the focus we need to stay on is controlling the growth of spending, and making sure that we put permanently in place the policies that will grow the economy. It would be wonderful if we could find areas of the federal government that were no longer needed–whether they were full departments or programs. But to do that, and not make sure we adopt the policies that grow the economy–therefore bring in revenue and allow us to balance this budget–I think would be misguided on our part. In 1994, when that was part of the Contract With America and then the platform, we’ve grown a lot since then, and we’ve learned a lot since then. The fact is, so little of the annual appropriations are discretionary now that if you want to make the biggest possible impact, then you can’t lose focus on finding solutions to the problems that we know are out there and finding the will of getting pro-growth policies in place that are predictable.

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The 1996 Republican platform called for eliminating the departments of Commerce, HUD, Education and Energy. Now that Republicans control the government, and CBO is projecting a deficit of more than $300 billion, would you get rid of any of those departments or other agencies? SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R.-TEX.): I think we’re going to have to deal very seriously with entitlement spending. Right now, Congress appropriates such a small part of the discretionary budget, and even half of the discretionary funds go to Defense, so it’s not even discretionary in that sense. But I’m for taking a hard look at all federal agencies and how they function, and if they don’t produce solid results, I’m for abolishing them. I would look at those on a case-by-case basis.

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Back in 1996, the Republican Party suggested cutting full departments, like Commerce, Education, Energy and HUD. With a deficit of more than $300 billion and Republicans in control, do you think we should go back to the party’s old philosophy? SEN. JON KYL (R.-ARIZ.): The reality is, those departments are not going to be eliminated. In politics you have to deal with realities, and today there are some new ways to reduce the size of our deficit, and one of them is playing offense instead of defense. It’s generating new revenues through a strong economy by keeping our taxes low. In other words, there are two ways to solve the problem: one is to cut expenses, the other is to make more money.

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The 1996 Republican platform called for eliminating the departments of Commerce, Education, HUD and Energy. With a deficit of more than $300 billion looming, would you favor cutting any of them today? SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R.-ARIZ.): I think you’re going to see the President’s budget come over with reductions in a number of programs. But I really want to see the cutting of pork-barrel spending. The earmarks are just outrageous and egregious to the point where we are harming the ability of agencies to do their job. Sean O’Keefe, the head of NASA, said NASA’s mission capability is being impaired. There was an article [reporting] that perhaps the arming of the Humvees was held up by pork-barrel spending. That’s my priority. Would you just want to cut any agencies? MCCAIN: Before we cut any agencies, why don’t we just cut the pork-barrel spending? We’ve identified 14,000 earmarks that account for as much as $40 billion. That’s the part of the system that’s out of control. But, yes, I’ve been opposed to many of these earmarks, particularly in Commerce, that continue on.

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The 1996 Republican platform called eliminating the departments of Commerce, Education, Energy and HUD. With Republicans in control and the CBO projecting a deficit of more than $300 billion, do you think it’s time to go back to that philosophy of cutting government departments as a whole? SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R.-ALA.): It is time for us to vigorously review every department and agency in the government to determine whether they’re producing sufficient value for the American people. There’s some legislation I’ve been supporting with Sen. Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.) that would establish a commission to review all these agencies and programs and identify ones that ought to be consolidated and identify ones that ought to be eliminated. Then we vote on it. I think the administration might do something like this. Frankly, the oversight function of the Congress has not been effective. I think it may be difficult, as a practical matter today, to just eliminate an entire Cabinet agency, but it wouldn’t be difficult to make major reforms and consolidations within those departments.

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Back in 1996, the Republican platform called for eliminating the departments of Commerce, Energy, Education and HUD. Facing a deficit of more than $300 billion, according to CBO, with Republicans in control of the government, would you suggest cutting any of those departments? SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R.-ALA.): I’ve heard those proposals for 26 years, and I don’t know of any departments that have vanished. Once they’re created, they seem to be set in stone. I would not support abolishing the Department of Commerce. We’re a free-market economy, and I think Commerce has done well, especially under Don Evans, whose the outgoing secretary at Commerce. Are there any agencies then that you would like to see cut? SHELBY: I think a lot of it is talk, but I’m sure we have a bloated bureaucracy. We probably have bloated agencies everywhere. But getting them cut out–saying it is one thing, getting it done through the Congress is another.

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About 10 years ago the Republican Party supported eliminating the departments of Commerce, Education, Energy and HUD. With the deficit at more than $300 billion, would you favor eliminating any of those departments today? SEN. JOHN SUNUNU (R.-N.H.): I think in the budget, the challenge is going to be to really rein in entitlements. Senator [Budget Chairman Judd] Gregg [R.-N.H.] has indicated a willingness to try to do that. I think right now that’s the bigger part of the budget. We did a good job on discretionary programs last year, and I hope we can do even better.

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The Republican Party called for eliminating the departments of Commerce, HUD, Education and Energy in its 1996 platform. Today, Republicans are in charge and we’re facing a deficit of more than $300 billion. Would you support eliminating any of those departments? SEN. JOHN THUNE (R.-S.D.): I don’t think it’s realistic politically to come out and propose the elimination of departments. I do think we ought to be looking for efficiencies, overlapping missions and duplicative-type activities that are going on in the federal government. There are a lot of agencies and departments, I’ve come to find out, that are doing similar things, and there’s a lot of redundancy. It seems to me, if you could figure out a way to eliminate a lot of that kind of duplication and overlap and redundancy, you wouldn’t have to necessarily totally, in a wholesale way, eliminate departments. But you could certainly accomplish the same objectives.


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