13 Ideas for the 2013 GOP

Republicans were already licking their wounds after last November’s bruising defeat, and the last-minute budget deal that raised taxes as 2012 collapsed into 2013 probably didn’t make them any happier.

In January of 2013, Gallup reported that only 14% of Americans approved of how Congress was doing its job. A Gallup poll in 2010 showed that the American public rated the “ethical standards” of Congress about as low as used car salespeople. Republicans could use some new ideas and a fresh start in 2013: I usually advise Democrats, but since I believe that having two healthy parties is good for America, I’ll offer the Republicans some advice here. The GOP could do worse than thinking about these 13 ideas for 2013.

1)    Freeze the budget: The House of Representatives has the constitutional authority to set the level of federal spending. If the Republican House just maintains the current levels of spending, then the normal 1-5% annual increase in federal revenues due to better growth and the higher taxes imposed in the budget agreement will slowly and naturally reduce the annual deficit. There is precedent for this: in the 1990s, the Republican-led House controlled spending and the Clinton tax increases paid off in higher revenues, eventually resulting in record surpluses.

2)    Reinvent government (again): Twenty years ago, Vice President Al Gore was assigned the task of finding inefficient programs. That was when the federal budget was roughly $1.5 trillion annually. Today, it’s nearly $4 trillion. Surely, some smart young House member can find waste and inefficiency in a government more than twice as large. It might be a good career move, too: back in the 1940s, an obscure Missouri senator chaired the committee overseeing federal spending during World War II, exposing fraud and bungling. Senator Harry Truman eventually became president.

3)    Establish a “government reform” task force to look for savings: There’s no reason why this group couldn’t be bipartisan. Invite some Democrats to join in and thereby avoid the suspicion that investigations of the Obama administration’s programs are a partisan witch hunt.

4)    Investigate the possibility of reducing American forces in Germany: While NATO served an honorable and crucial role in winning the Cold War, the chances of another war in Central Europe are currently very low. Drawing down American troops to a “trip-wire” force could save up to $20 billion.

5)    Consolidate and eliminate departments: There is also precedent for this. In the 1950s and the 1990s, programs that were duplicative were combined to save money (both decades saw balanced budgets). One possible department to consolidate would be the Department of Energy (whose budget was $27 billion last year). Many of this department’s functions can be handled by other cabinet agencies. For example, regulation of oil and gas drilling can be done by the Environmental Protection Agency.  Grants in the alternative energy field can be processed by the Commerce Department. Drilling permits can be handled by the Department of the Interior. And so on.