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Alexander: We Found $2 Trillion in Cuts; Why Can’t Politicians?

The direction of America won’t be determined just by what happens on Election Day but also by how official Washington handles the threat posed by the “fiscal cliff.”

This issue should have been addressed months ago, but Congress kicked the can down the road and avoided making tough choices that could have political implications during an election year. Now, automatic cuts in government spending and the expiration of tax breaks threaten to throw the economy into recession if Congress doesn’t act during a lame-duck session.

Although there is a great deal of anxiety regarding the looming fiscal cliff, the answers to this challenge are not difficult to achieve. If both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue work together and set politics aside, they can reduce spending and raise revenue thoughtfully.

How do we know? Because we’ve figured out how to do it.

Taxpayers for Common Sense has pulled together more than $2 trillion worth of necessary deficit reduction that cuts across the federal government. At present, the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration would mindlessly slash $1.2 trillion in spending. In our new report, “Sliding Past Sequestration,” we beat that by more than $800 billion.

We can save $100 billion by eliminating agriculture commodity crop subsidies and reforming crop insurance in the agriculture sector; reform the mortgage interest deduction, making it less regressive and more effective and save $645 billion; and save another $17 billion by canceling the lemon-like Osprey aircraft, which has only a 6 percent effective rate in missions flown and has been fraught with cost overruns. We could raise $1.5 billion by actually charging people for extracting gold and other precious minerals from our public lands, like every other landowner in the world, instead of giving it away (an idea that may have been appropriate in 1872 when it was enacted, but certainly is a bad idea now).

They call the post-election Congress a lame duck for a reason. There may be a lot of squawking, but they don’t get much done. We can’t afford that kind of legislative inertia.

Despite the finger-pointing, Congress and the president bear responsibility for setting up the sequestration process, and they need to fix it. It was designed to be ugly and awful to spur them into action. So, now it’s time to act.

There is no shortage of ideas, just a shortage of political will to make the tough decisions during a campaign, which is why this debate is being held during the lame-duck session instead of the regular session of Congress. 

As every election season demonstrates, neither party holds an exclusive on ideological inconsistencies. This year, small government conservatives have turned into military Keynesians to lament the catastrophic effect on employment of cutting defense spending while simultaneously bemoaning big government intervention in the economy elsewhere. Meanwhile, proud liberals campaigning for tax fairness are just as guilty as the next guy of trying to preserve specific corporate tax breaks for their own constituents.

The 112th Congress didn’t accomplish much. But in its waning days unencumbered by electoral politics, it has the opportunity to make a lasting impression. We are a nation that is $16 trillion in debt, with trillion-dollar deficits. We need lawmakers to tackle our fiscal challenges in an open-minded and serious way, crafting effective, comprehensive proposals to reform our spending and tax policies and entitlement programs. Let’s at least get a down payment on that before the end of the year. Our hardworking staff of a dozen found $2 trillion.

It’s Congress’ turn. Get to work.

Ryan Alexander is president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.