Spending Cuts Are Great When the Spending Is Stupid

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There’s a tired fight raging in Washington between anti-government people who want spending cuts and pro-government people who don’t. Here’s a crazy thought: Maybe we should spend more on good things and less on dumb things. I’m in the pro-government camp, but I’d be thrilled to eliminate almost all of the $380 billion worth of spending targeted by the new Green Scissors report, a catalog of fiscally wasteful and environmentally destructive programs identified by activists from the left and the right.

OK, I’m a bit biased, because the report—compiled by the deficit-hawk Taxpayers for Common Sense, free-market Heartland Institute, environmental group Friends of the Earth, and consumer watchdog Public Citizen—is practically a laundry list of my governmental pet peeves. The groups share my contempt for corn ethanol,  “the granddaddy of wasteful alternative fuels,” as well as farm subsidies in general and a particularly egregious giveaway to Brazilian cotton farmers in particular. They also tee off on my favorite bureaucratic target, the Army Corps of Engineers, singling out my favorite Corps flood-control boondoggle, my favorite Corps lock expansion boondoggle, and an equally egregious Corps boondoggle that I don’t even joke about, because it’s wasting more than a billion dollars just a stone’s throw from the flimsy Corps levees that failed during Hurricane Katrina. We’re also on the same page when it comes to the nuclear industry’s cradle-to-grave government support, as well as those ridiculous rural airport subsidies that Congressman John Mica took hostage during a recent standoff with Senate Democrats over FAA funding. Unfortunately, the hostages didn’t get shot this time.

I’ve got a few quibbles with the Green Scissors list. I get the skepticism about the Department of Energy’s loan guarantees, but they’re a pretty cost-effective way to promote our transition to a clean-energy economy. I understand why some enviros think clean coal an oxymoron, but as long as the world keeps burning the stuff, it would be nice to figure out a way to do it in a less catastrophic manner. And I’m willing to bet that whoever nominated the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy for the report—I’m looking at you, anonymous right-winger from the Heartland Institute—has never visited it or talked to the geniuses running it. ARPA-E is our moon mission, and it will produce some amazing breakthroughs that just wouldn’t happen without a government boost.

But those are just quibbles.  Hopefully, the congressional Super-Duper Cuts Committee will take a look at this report before it starts slashing Social Security or food stamps or public transit or vaccinations or other government programs with legitimate public purposes. And those of us who don’t hate government ought to be ruthless about government programs that don’t have legitimate public purposes. If there were fewer of them, maybe fewer people would hate government.