Somewhere beneath the epidermis, subcutaneous tissue, muscle and bones, is a remnant of what used to be called our Puritan DNA.
The last I heard of it was from my parents and grandparents generation. “Waste not, want not” was one old saying I recall.” Then there was the admonition to eat everything on my plate because somewhere in the world people were starving. When I said I would be happy to send my vegetables to them I was sent to my room without dessert.
It is a given our government wastes money. Even liberal Democrats think so. Why, then, can’t we come to an agreement to cut wasteful spending and reduce our debt?
As I argue in my new book, “What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America,” it is largely because most government programs quickly attract constituencies, who benefit monetarily or politically from these programs. Ronald Reagan used to say the only proof of eternal life in Washington is a government program.
The Founders would be shocked we have let our spending get out of control. Thomas Jefferson warned: “I place economy among the first and most important virtues, and public debt as the greatest of dangers to be feared. To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. If we run into such debts, we must be taxed in our meat and drink, in our necessities and in our comforts, in our labor and in our amusements. If we can prevent the government from wasting the labor of the people, under the pretense of caring for them, they will be happy.”
Republicans do not have clean hands when it comes to debt. Too many have not only added new spending, but have been reluctant to cut old spending on programs that don’t work.
Did you know there are three variations of the Head Start program? A recent editorial in USA Today described them as “mediocre” at best. And yet huge amounts of money continue to be spent on them because the program sounds good.
Data compiled in a book by David Muhlhausen of The Heritage Foundation show that the overwhelming majority of social programs since the Great Society not only do not work, in many cases they have had negative effects on those they were created to help.
As Thomas Sowell has written, “Much of the social history of the Western world over the past [five] decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good.”
I propose an updated version of two commissions that targeted wasteful spending. One succeeded, the other didn’t.
The Grace Commission was the brainchild of Ronald Reagan who proposed it in 1982. Led by businessman J. Peter Grace, the commission presented to Congress in 1984 proposals for cutting wasteful spending by $424 billion over three years. It said if its recommendations were not followed the national debt would increase to $13 trillion by the year 2000. The debt hit that mark in 2008 during the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market. It recently passed $17 trillion with no end in sight.
The Grace Commission report said waste and inefficiency by the Federal government were responsible for the consumption of one-third of the taxes Americans send to Washington.
Unfortunately, Congress ignored the report.
The other commission that could also serve as a model for spending cuts is the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC). BRAC was created as an independent agency for the purpose of increasing military efficiency and to close military installations that were relics of World War II and the Cold War. Since 1989, 350 such installations have been closed with substantial cost savings.
We need an outside commission with no elected officials to conduct a complete audit of the entire federal government to see which agencies are functioning properly and living up to the legislation or charters that created them.
If they no longer work, or cost too much, they should either be eliminated or for those still providing some form of benefit, their budgets should be substantially reduced.
Congress should be forced to vote on their recommendations and to give reasons should they refuse them. They should not be allowed to ignore the recommendations.
Every agency and program of government should be required to prove it is working for the benefit of those it was created to serve, otherwise it should be eliminated. That should include every Cabinet agency.
If we do not get our spending under control; if we do not control our debt; if we refuse to control ourselves, our lust and sense of entitlement, we will preside over the death of America.
In “What Works” I offer a prescription that will put us back on the right road.
Evangelist Billy Graham once observed: “America is not at a crossroads; America is a long way down the wrong road. It needs to come back to the crossroads and take the right road.”
That has never been truer that it is today.
Cal Thomas is America's most widely syndicated op-ed columnist. He joined Fox News Channel in 1997 as a political contributor. His latest book is "What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America" is available in bookstores now. Readers may email Cal Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.