WASHINGTON – Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is once again pushing legislation aimed at reducing fiscal waste by requiring Congress to regularly review and consider consolidating or eliminating duplicative programs.
The Legislative Performance Review Act would place a four-year expiration date on all new budget authority included in appropriations acts, while requiring regular reviews for continued budget authority for existing programs. If the program’s authorization expires, the legislation would allow for an “orderly,” two-year wind-down.
“As our national debt rapidly closes in on $20 trillion, we should, at the very least, acknowledge that government should not automatically fund programs without regard for performance or continued need,” Paul said in a statement last week. “Passing this bill is one of the easiest, most common-sense steps we can take to make Congress a better steward of the American people’s money.”
The Kentucky lawmaker pointed out how in 2016 the Congressional Budget Office revealed that in the previous decade, on average, “about one-fourth of total discretionary appropriations were provided for programs and activities whose explicit authorizations of appropriations had expired.” The CBO concluded that “$310 billion – about one-quarter of discretionary appropriations in 2016 – was provided for programs and activities whose explicit authorization of appropriations had expired and whose appropriations could be identified.”
Cato Institute scholar Jeff Miron, who serves as director of undergraduate studies for Harvard University’s Department of Economics, said in an interview Monday that Paul’s legislation makes sense in principle, but he believes it will have no positive or negative impact in reducing the deficit, if passed. He said that public and private organizations should absolutely take stock of inventory and constantly re-assess programs, particularly as they get older and become less relevant.
“But practically speaking, I doubt it’s going to make more than a trivial difference,” he said.
Miron said that the federal reviews Paul has proposed will simply conclude that most existing government programs are “vitally important,” given that special interests will push for those results. He added that a huge fraction of existing government programs don’t amount to very much in terms of fiscal relation to the size of the entire federal budget.
The largest areas of government spending are national defense, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and debt interest. Miron said the Legislative Performance Review Act fails to address the fact that Medicare is the most expensive program and the most likely to “bankrupt the economy.”
About 10,000 Baby Boomers are turning 65 every day, and the number of individuals on Medicare is growing at a rate faster than the economy. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is one of the only mainstream politicians who has pushed for significant Medicare reform, Miron said.
Miron suggested higher ages of eligibility, stricter cutoffs for eligibility for Medicaid and higher co-pays and deductibles so people “have more skin in the game.” But because most Americans are either on Medicare or are related to an individual on Medicare, it’s not a “very popular policy to pick on,” Miron said.
“Any program that’s projected, that’s likely to grow faster than the overall economy is going to become more than the entire economy. That can’t make sense. That has to be moderated in some way,” Miron said. “Getting the growth of Medicare down to that rate ought to be something that everybody who accepts the laws of arithmetic should agree on.”
Paul’s legislation has three co-sponsors: Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Michael B. Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Luther Strange (R-Ala.).