Federal budget expert says gore every ox

Weidenbaum finds $136.8 billion worth of cuts in new study

With six decades of federal budget analysis under his belt and service as economic adviser to two presidents, Murray Weidenbaum, PhD, says it’s time to shift the current budget debate to focus on ways to cut federal spending starting with billions of dollars earmarked for special interest programs.

In a recently published report, Weidenbaum, the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor of Economics in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, calls for a new approach to fiscal restraint that goes beyond the usual targets of taxes, entitlements and defense spending to find budget items that are “ripe candidates for the chopping block.”

How to Really Cut the Federal Budget: A Menu of Expenditure Reductions” scrutinizes the federal budget and sharpens the scalpel for large government subsidy programs in agriculture and energy that exceed $73 billion in fiscal 2011.

Weidenbaum also proposes cutting $50 billion worth of programs he says are often dismissed as “too small to bother with” but add up to significant costs that could be phased out.

Weidenbaum acknowledges his proposal to cut subsidies to special interest groups is both difficult and long overdue. “The point is not to pick on just a few interest groups whose pet spending is to be reduced,” Weidenbaum says. “If the budget cutting is to be effective, every ox must be gored.”

The report cites $136.8 billion of potential budget cuts. Weidenbaum says opportunities for serious and careful budget pruning exist in every department and agency, military and civilian, social and economic. Revenue policy and major entitlement programs are reserved for future discussion.

Examples of candidates for budget cuts detailed in the report:

  • Special housing programs
  • Agricultural subsidies (including price supports)
  • Energy subsidies
  • Defense Department civilian construction
  • Transportation subsidies
  • Disability portion of Social Security

The report is available online at WUSTL’s Murray Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy website. Weidenbaum, who has served or advised five U.S. presidents, was the first chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers to Ronald Reagan. He is honorary chairman of the Weidenbaum Center.

Weidenbaum is available for broadcast interviews via free ISDN and Vyvx studio lines at Washington University in St. Louis or by phone. To arrange an interview, contact: Melody Walker, 314-935-5202 or melody_walker@wustl.edu.