How Not to Make the Case for Terminating Federal Programs

Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney recently gave the following response to a reporter’s question on what programs he would cut:

Of course you get rid of Obamacare, that’s the easy one, but there are others: Planned Parenthood, we’re gonna get rid of that. The subsidy for Amtrak, I would eliminate that. The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, both excellent programs, but we can’t afford to borrow money to pay for these things.

It’s good that Romney can actually name federal programs that he would terminate (even if they’re relatively small programs). But how on earth does he expect to garner support from Congress to terminate the NEA and NEH after having called them “excellent programs”? Sorry, but the “federal government is broke” argument won’t get the job done. In fact, it’s just a cop out that Republican politicians often use to avoid having to provide a coherent, principled justification for spending cuts.

Last year, I criticized the Boehner Republicans in the House for making a similarly weak case for spending cuts:

The Boehner Republicans argue that they did terminate dozens of federal programs. In a rebuttal to critics, Boehner stated that the “agreement terminates more than 40 ineffective programs at the U.S. Department of Education alone.” Unfortunately, the combined savings from these terminations don’t appear to trim even a billion dollars from an agency that will spend over $70 billion this year.

Notice also that Boehner soft-peddles the education terminations by labeling them “ineffective programs.” The entire Department of Education is an unconstitutional, costly failure. Sadly, the man who wrote No Child Left Behind with the departed Sen. Ted Kennedy felt compelled to convey a message to the public that the GOP is only interested in axing spare parts that even Beltway bureaucrats agree aren’t needed.

With the exception of more military spending for purposes of policing the world and defending wealthy allies, it’s hard to discern a coherent philosophy behind the GOP’s cuts. Yes, the House Republican leadership says that it’s committed to repealing “Obamacare.” Unfortunately, the charge is being mounted by individuals who helped ram through George W. Bush’s Medicare prescription drug liability.

Yes, we should cut spending instead of going deeper into debt. Yes, a program’s ineffectiveness is a reason to cut it. But even if the federal government was running budget surpluses and a particular program wasn’t a complete disaster, there’s a darn good chance that the program in question should still be terminated.

That’s why we created Downsizing Government. Give it a look, Mitt.