How the Republicans Could Make Government More Efficient, But Won't

Almost the first thing the Republican leaders of the Senate and House promised when they took control of both houses of Congress was that they would make government work more efficiently. But they haven't and won't because that would require the chairmen of committees and subcommittees to potentially lose jurisdiction over programs run by the government whether or not they work or duplicate other programs. Once a Member of Congress has at least a subcommittee chair, as most Republicans do, the urge to protect the programs under their jurisdiction (and the fundraising associated with them) far outweighs the benefit of eliminating or changing programs that don't work. The best example is the refusal of the congressional committee to cut funding for weapons the Pentagon doesn't want.

However, if the Republicans really wanted to make the government more efficient, they could pass a law requiring the president to propose changes in the administrative structure of government within one year which would go into effect unless vetoed by Congress within 45 days. That would bypass, at least initially, the problem of trying to get the members to decide which committees and subcommittees would gain or lose jurisdiction and put the spotlight on programs that needed to be changed.

Indeed, if they were really serious about balancing the budget, they should insist that the president propose to cut unnecessary tax subsidies. Everyone agrees that the tax code is too complex and that the business tax code costs more in subsidies than it raises in revenue. Forcing the Congress to vote on a package of cuts would ease the problem of each individual beneficiary focusing on saving their particular subsidy. It would be similar to the legislation establishing the Base Closing Commission that requires Congress to accept or reject in its entirety its recommendations on which military bases should be closed.

Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that the Republican leadership could muster the votes for such a proposal because so many of its members seem to be wed to a theological position that the only way to "save" government is to cut taxes and "starve the beast," ignoring the harm that has been done by sequestering funds across the board and the evidence that it is counterproductive. They are focused on cutting spending rather than trying to define what government should be doing and then funding it in the most efficient manner. For example, over the last decade the IRS budget has been substantially cut despite its added workload. The result has been that the IRS had to cut training budgets by 85 percent and can audit fewer and fewer taxpayers, which means billions and billions of dollars of revenue are uncollected. But, perhaps, that was their intent.