Republicans’ initial steps to trim the deficit have been dismissed as mere symbolic gestures, but they are based on a time-tested debt reduction model.
House Republicans vowed to cut $100 billion in non-defense discretionary spending from President Obama’s budget this year. Compared to the $3.5 trillion federal budget, a cut of a hundred billion is rather tiny.
But there’s more than just symbolism here.
Republicans are using the snowball debt reduction method - a debt counselor-preferred means of reducing debt that has helped many thousands of Americans restore their solvency.
This procedure calls for debtors to pay off the smallest debts first and the larger ones over time. The strategy works in part because it provides constant feedback, building confidence that gives people the courage to tackle larger debts as they go along.
The greatest difficulty we have in cutting federal spending and the deficit is our lack of experience with it. Without successfully making smaller cuts, we’ll never be able to make the large ones needed for substantial progress.
Congress’ new Republican leaders know they need to get the snowball rolling or, like snow plows following a New York blizzard, support for their party will be hard to find.
The message of the 2010 election, unlike the last Republican wave election in 1994, is clear: Americans believe government is too large.
A recent poll of conservatives and tea party activists conducted by my organization and FreedomWorks reveals the kind of trouble politicians may find themselves in if they ignore the message of 2010.
The survey found that corporate support for big-government programs - including health reform, cap-and-trade legislation, and the $787 billion federal stimulus package _ harms them among conservatives.
Though the survey measured attitudes toward corporations, the implication for politicians is obvious. If tea party activists are ready to campaign against big-spending politicians’ corporate enablers, just imagine what they’re willing to do politicians who break their promises of fiscal responsibility? Congressional Republicans seem to be getting it. They imposed an earmark ban and rejected the Senate’s $1.2 trillion stimulus package even though its author, Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, loaded it with $1 billion in earmarks for Republicans, offering shots of spending to recovering spendaholics.
To make real progress in reducing the federal deficit, however, they’ll also have to cut mandatory programs, as they account for 60 percent of total federal outlays.
Conventional wisdom holds that cutting such mandatory programs as Social Security and Medicare is political suicide. Poll after poll shows that, given the choice between changing the programs and keeping them as they are, more than 60 percent choose the status quo. But that’s not a realistic choice and the public is coming to realize this.
A Rasmussen poll last October found that only 41 percent of Americans believe taxpayers can continue funding Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid at their current levels. A Gallup survey the same month found that 77 percent of Americans believe Social Security and Medicare eventually will create major economic problems. Americans know what must be done, even if they don’t prefer it. They need to see solid evidence that the new Congress is up to the task.
• David A. Ridenour is vice president of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank in Washington. Readers may write to him at: NCPPR, 501 Capitol Court NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; Web site: www.nationalcenter.org. For information about NCPPR’s funding, please go to http://www.nationalcenter.org/NCPPRHist.html (see “Funding” at end).