What to Cut


The new Speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner of Ohio, was asked in an interview last night by NBC’s Brian Williams to “name a program right now that we could do without.”  Boehner’s reply was, “I don’t think I have one off the top of my head.”

This did not go down well with the enemies of Big Government, such as Reason’s Nick Gillespie, who reminded Boehner that “the only reason you’re wielding that comically oversized gavel as Speaker of the House at all is because of public revulsion at outta-control federal spending, and you can’t think of one program to cut?”

Meanwhile, the new Republican majority stammered its way through some awkward questions about their promise to cut $100 billion in government spending this year.  Paul Ryan, now Chairman of the House Budget Committee, finally drew his budget-cutting pistol and fired a few shots in the air to get everyone’s attention.  “We are not reneging on it,” he stated firmly in a Today segment on NBC.  He went on to point out that the current fiscal year Is half over, so a great deal of money has already been spent, and spoke of statutory caps on discretionary spending for fiscal year 2012.

As to specific programs that would be cut, Ryan said they would be selected during the “appropriations process down the road.”

What you have here is a combination of sloppy public relations and solid common sense.  Boehner should have known he would be pressed for specific cuts, and the Republican caucus knew it would not gain control of the House until the fiscal year was half over.  Everyone involved should have been able to hear the drumbeat from millions of impatiently tapping Tea Party feet, and see the icy glint beneath their narrowed eyes.

Moving forward, I would offer this piece of advice to congressional Republicans, and it goes double for aspiring presidential candidates: the media hates what you’re trying to do, they will challenge you on it, and they’re especially interested in sound bites that will infuriate your base.  Every interview is a prosecution.  Prepare yourselves accordingly.  Every conservative publication and think tank produces regular lists of ridiculous crap that could be cut from the budget.  Senator Tom Coburn wrote an entire book about government waste.  You could bring a copy of it to each press conference, along with your current issue of Human Events.  Shake either or both of these fine publications and growl menacingly when asked what programs you plan to cut.

On the other hand, the budget of the United States will not be set by one guy during a TV interview.  Ryan is correct to say that the process of reducing our bloated government will be carried out in an orderly fashion by his committee, not babbled hysterically into a wall of microphones and video cameras.

Fiscal sanity will not be restored by picking a handful of specific programs to eliminate.  All of them must be cut, because all of them have been growing with lunatic speed.  Boehner should have rejected Brian Williams’ question out of hand.  The success or failure of the Republican Party, and the American project, will not be determined by the programs we can “do without.”  It will depend on trimming fat and fraud from the entire government, which didn’t become morbidly obese overnight.  No one should be allowed to get away with portraying the struggle to bring it under control as a frenzy that must succeed by this time next year, or be judged an utter failure.

It’s interesting that the press never pins Democrats to the wall and demands to know what they plan to cut, even though they’re supposedly all about fiscal restraint, job creation, and deficit slashing these days.  The only thing they ever do actually cut is the military.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates just announced a $78 billion reduction to the Pentagon budget, which will lead to reductions in the size of the Army and Marine Corps, according to a UPI report. 

The Republicans didn’t do very well shooting from the hip during their first days in power, but that’s all right.  What really matters is how well they can handle a chainsaw in the months to come.  Conservatives and libertarians should resist the media’s attempt to stampede us into pronouncing them failures before they even get started.