Yep: "Smaller, more effective government."
With just four words, the Democratic Party could make itself a real challenger to the Republicans' fiscal recklessness. What would the platform underlying the slogan involve?
- Slash agricultural subsidies. These massive payouts distort markets, cost taxpayers billions, and benefit only a privileged few. See here for details.
- End earmarking. This is an issue that will require real sacrifice for Democrats, most of whom don't seem interested in eliminating such a potent source of political pork. But it is both tremendously important from a fiscal perspective and an excellent way to demonstrate courage in tackling the deficit.
- Cut funding for NASA. Everyone loves space flight, but NASA receives far more tax money than it can justify. Those $16.8 billion requested for fiscal 2007 would be better spent reducing the deficit or supporting basic research.
- Eliminate subsidies to the coal, oil, gas and nuclear industries. Government interference of this sort is both counterproductive and completely unnecessary: it perversely discourages energy efficiency while ignoring the market's capacity to deal with supply problems on its own. Legislation can and should exist to correct market failures -- for instance, to incorporate the costs of pollution -- but subsidies to fossil fuel and nuclear energy sources have no such justification.
- Stop wasting billions of dollars on missile defense. If you need any convincing, read Matthew Yglesias's excellent piece on the subject. Money quote: "How an attack that didn’t involve ballistic missiles perpetrated by people who don’t have ballistic missiles underscored the threat of ballistic missiles is hard to say."
- Force Congress to account for true costs by the same standards it has imposed on business. This makes a big difference: it more than doubles the size of the deficit. If you don't believe me, consider the hard-right National Center for Policy Analysis's take on the subject.
All these actions taken together, of course, wouldn't come close to solving our fiscal problems. But they would provide a great start and, more importantly, an atmosphere of seriousness in dealing with our self-imposed budgetary crisis.
One might say that by co-opting the language of "smaller government," the Democratic Party would risk an irrevocable shift of the political middle and a destruction of its long-term prospects. It's a valid point. But I think that the party also has a great opportunity to improve its long-term image. By casting itself as a principled group ready to fight wasteful spending, the Democratic Party would improve its credibility for those situations where new programs are truly necessary.