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Ray Haynes

How Conservatives Can Change the Budget Process

The latest federal budget presented to us as “finished” proves one big point. Our government budgets, at the Federal, State, and Local levels, are out of control. Conservatives constantly campaign to control the size and scope of government, but once they get elected, and have to actually govern, conservatives fall short of correcting the persistent problem, the cause of the ever increasing size and scope of government and the erosion of individual freedom in this country, the budgets of the various governments.

Of course, the first problem is the self interest of the groups who make money off the budget. They are the largest contributors to the political process, and the ones most interested in the outcomes of budget negotiations. Whether it is police and fire unions, teachers’ or other education related unions, government employee unions, private sector operations who contract with the government for all manner of things and services, and even those who are regulated by the government, all have an interest in protecting the status quo, which generally means the “constant” growth of government. Word limitations on these types of blogs limit my ability to explain, but trust me, when a regulated industry has a problem with a government agency, that government agency is likely to tell that regulated industry “we can’t help it, we don’t have the resources to solve your problem…” prompting a call to some elected official somewhere to increase their budget. If conservatives are actually ever going to actually deliver on their promise to shrink the size and scope of government, they are going to have to learn how to fight the bureaucrats at their own game, and change the rules of budgeting. These are just a few of my suggestions on how that can be done.

FIRST: change the budget language. Budget bureaucrats don’t speak English, they speak budgetese. They emit noises that may sound like English, but have a “budgetese” not English meaning. Budget Cuts are actually real increases. A successful program is one that spent all of the money it was given in the last budget. Performance is not related to any fixed, achievable goals (like in business), but rather making all the right noises. When a program like food stamps has a shrinking user base, it is not because the economy is performing better, and thus fewer people need the subsidy, it is because government has not “advertised” or marketed” the program correctly, and therefore the program “needs” more money for “community outreach.”

Conservatives need to change that language. A successful welfare program is one that gets people off the welfare rolls. A successful regulatory program is one that has fewer, not more, victims. A successful public safety (police, fire, military) is one that provides a safer environment, not one that increases the size of the public safety workforce. Budgets should deliver services in the most efficient way possible, that means achieving the goals of the agency at the least cost. The language used by conservatives has to identify these goals, and explain why the current budget process is not achieving those goals.

SECOND: Know the history of spending on an agency or service. Budgets are controlled first at the “micro” level,that is, agency by agency, then at the “macro” level, that is overall spending. Teams of conservative elected officials (depending on where they are, one at the local level, several at the state level, dozens at the federal level) have to become familiar with the “micro” spending of each agency over the past 10-20 years, and whether, over that time, the agency has done anything to achieve its stated goals. On the macro level, conservative budgeters need to know how spending has increased over time, in relation to each program, and in relation to revenue. The welfare bureaucracy thinks its goal is to get more people on welfare, the public safety bureaucracy believes it is its job to hire more employees to serve in that level of bureaucracy, the “transportation” bureaucracy thinks it job is not to build more roads, but to force more people onto government run mass transportation. Conservatives need to analyze these “goals,” demonstrate why they are wrong, and eliminate and redirect spending to goals that are more in line with the expectation of the voter, and not the interest groups that make money off the programs, then they need to move to slow or reduce overall spending

THIRD: Engage the bureaucracy directly, through use of their oversight ability and/or punishing the bureaucracy for trying to manipulate the elected official. Bureaucracies first reaction whenever an elected official tries to control their profligate spending is to attack that elected official through the media. The elected official cannot be cowed, but rather be bolder, and start eliminating the jobs of those who attack them. It will be a nasty fight, but it will bring them under control.

Fourth: Eliminate all sacred cows. Once one program is put off limits to cuts, whether it is the military, or veteran’s benefits, or roads, then the left will automatically put that on the chopping block. Want to cut welfare? cut everything. Want to cut unnecessary fat in the government bureaucracy, be ready to cut everything, and be prepared to defend those cuts.

I will follow up tomorrow with more ideas. The key thought to leave with at this point is, however, don’t give up on the budget process, don’t fear media, donor, or bureaucracy criticism, and don’t be afraid to cut, everything early and often. We are on the brink of losing our freedom, because we are allowing the bureaucracy to run amok. The conservative movement is our only hope, at the local, state, and federal levels.