U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R–Wisconsin) is not a member of the Congressional super duper alleged-deficit-reduction supercommittee.
So, of course, Johnson has a better plan to reduce the deficit than the supercommittee is likely to create. The Wall Street Journal reports:
… the Senator has identified $1.4 trillion in savings over 10 years for any Congressional “Super Committee” members looking to make sensible cuts on behalf of taxpayers. Reasonable people can argue over the details, but what’s encouraging about the plan is that it shows how much leaner the federal government could be without even cutting back on services that many voters demand.
Relying heavily on the work of Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn as well as independent groups like Third Way, Mr. Johnson has found impressive savings across federal operations. The biggest item takes $248 billion out of salaries for most federal workers, but no one gets fired or suffers a pay cut. The cuts are achieved through attrition and a pay freeze for civilians through 2015. Mr. Johnson reports that federal workers are now making 30% to 40% more in combined wages and benefits than comparable workers in the real economy. His plan therefore gives taxpayers a fighting chance to catch up with the public servants they’re supporting.
The Johnson plan also has at least one element that President Obama should love: eliminating federal reviews on transportation projects whenever state and local rules meet or exceed federal standards. Cutting this duplicative red tape and streamlining approvals would save $50 billion. Mr. Obama should sign this—if we may borrow a phrase—right away.
Johnson’s proposal, which can be read here, has the advantage of not being particularly partisan or ideological for the most part. These proposals do not include, for instance, eliminating cabinet departments whose functions are not mentioned in the Constitution. Whether you agree or not with the existence of the departments of Energy, Education and Veterans Affairs, the fact is that there is not nearly enough support in Washington to kill those departments. That requires another election.
The proposed cuts include:
Close federal government computer data centers. … By reforming federal information technology management and closing computer data centers, the government could realize major cost savings in the management of its IT workforce. Better technology enables computers to run at far higher levels of efficiency and utilization than in previous years, doing more tasks with fewer computers and fewer data centers.
Eliminate locality pay for rest of United States. … Through locality pay, employees living outside a metropolitan statistical area receive a 14.61% increase in base pay purely for being a federal employee. Given that locality pay was meant to offset the cost of living in more expensive urban and suburban areas, there is no reason why these employees need an additional boost.
Use accurate COLA formula to estimate inflation. … The current cost of living adjustment formula for Civil Service Retirement System recipients is calculated under the Consumer Price Index – Wages (CPI-W), based on changes in wages, not on changes in the cost of living. A newer, more accurate model based on urban consumer prices, not wages (CPI-U), would more accurately link adjustments to retirees’ actual living costs by estimating COLA with CPI-U instead of CPI-W.
Eliminate unneeded federal properties. … The federal government now manages more than 63,000 unneeded real estate holdings and other federal properties. This number continues to increase. American taxpayers foot the bill for the operational costs of these buildings, such as utilities and maintenance.
Eliminate duplicative offices at the Department of Homeland Security. … While billions of dollars have been spent toward consolidating 22 different components into a single department, there are still management inefficiencies, such as the approximately 60 Department of Homeland Security offices at the component level that duplicate activities at the headquarters level. Eliminating these separate offices, with separate staffs and budgets, and streamlining the chain of command and number of staff would result in significant cost savings both in terms of real salaries and in increased efficiencies.
Cut federal vehicle fleet by 20%. … It is estimated that federal agencies own or lease more than 662,000 vehicles. These vehicles require maintenance and service, whether they are being driven or simply sitting on a parking lot, unused.
Cut federal advertising by 50%. … It is estimated that the government spent nearly $1 billion on advertising in 2010. While this may be necessary in some instances (for instance, recruiting for federal jobs), it often can be controversial and unnecessary.
Reduce and restrict government printing. … As document technology improves, there is less and less need for costly printing. Many government documents are printed regardless of whether someone actually has requested a printed document. With better managerial controls, via more deliberate policies on when printing is and is not appropriate, significant savings could be realized.
Five-year freeze on constructing or buying new federal buildings. … With the federal government managing so many thousands of underused properties, a freeze on new acquisitions and construction of federal buildings should not constrain agencies’ missions.
End direct subsidy to U.S. Postal Service for non-profit mail discounts. … The Postal Service (USPS) has been ordered to grant non-profit mail discounts and received a direct federal appropriation in compensation. The appropriation was authorized to compensate USPS for lost revenues that occurred in the early 1990s and ended in 1998, and is not related to any current USPS activities. From a management standpoint, then, the appropriation makes little sense. President Obama’s 2012 budget proposed an end to appropriations to USPS for non-profit mail discounts.
Cut number of limousines owned by the government. … In recent years, the fleet of limousines under federal agency management has grown by 73%. In an era of fiscal austerity, there is no need for so many limousines. This is government excess at its finest.
The largest chunk of potential savings, more than $800 billion, comes in, not surprisingly, employee compensation, not by cutting positions, but by, as in Wisconsin, making federal employees pay their fair share of their extremely generous employee benefits, along with a 10-percent workforce cut by attrition. The proposal also freezes pay for both federal employees and members of Congress through 2015.
Whether you believe the federal government is too small or not, or does too much or not enough, the fact is that if the government wastes money in any area, it cannot spend money in whatever area in which you think spending is insufficient. That is why most of Johnson’s proposed cuts need to be enacted immediately, unless, that is, the Democrats are fine with being painted as the Government Waste Party.
The seriousness of the deficit supercommittee will be measured by the number of Johnson’s proposals the supercommittee approves. And the seriousness of Congress’ interest in reducing the deficit will be measured by the number of Johnson’s proposals for which members of Congress vote.