Sunday

If I Were President: Some Ideas to Reduce the Deficit (in the U.S.)

I think it is important to come right out and say that I don't have a background in tax law, in politics, or in economics.  Nonetheless, like all Americans (or most of them anyway), I do have ideas and opinions concerning the U.S. deficit.  I also sometimes wonder what it would be like to be the President of the U.S.  Conflating the two memes...

If I were President of the U.S. and wanted to find ways to work with Congress to reduce the budget deficit as a percentage of GDP, I would:

a) Move to sell any unused or under-utilized public buildings within two years.  This action would generate capital in two ways.  First, the government would obtain money up front from the buyers of these properties.  Second, it would no longer have to pay monthly fees to maintain these properties.  Of course, some issues would arise during this process and would need to be resolved, including the fact that some buildings will be hard to sell, will not secure a fair bid, have historical value, etc.; however, this is the case with regards to any federal scheme to raise additional revenue or to cut expenses.

Perhaps the President (or some of his advisers) has already undertaken this project, or maybe he has considered it and decided not to pursue it.  I'm sure that he has authorized the sell of some of the buildings; however, I doubt he has considered letting the public bid on all unused properties (and tried to complete the task in such a short time frame).  Either way, it is worth discussing in my opinion. I think the notion will score points with the public (at least the ones not directly impacted by any selling) and would also garner support from Republicans. 

One drawback: I don't know how much money it will raise.

b) Increase fees at National Parks and at other federally sponsored tourist attractions.  That move might not win the public's acclaim, but it would be a feasible one.  I am not sure if fee increases need to be approved by Congress.  If so, Republicans (and Democrats) might be able to agree to hike rates at some/all of the nation's federally run parks, museums, etc.

As with the prior suggestion, I do not know how much money the federal government would bring in via these fee hikes; it might not add much to the coffers, especially if it decreases the census rates (admission numbers) at the federal facilities.

c) Perhaps it would be feasible to review federal agencies to see if they can run more efficiently, can create money-saving synergies (ie. reduce redundant services between agencies), or in other ways reduce their expenses.  Additionally, as President, I would at least broach the subject of privatizing some government services if feasible and appropriate.   If one does not already exist, I would also think about either creating a federal agency to routinely audit the performance of its fellow government organizations or hiring private firms to perform these audits. 

The potential downsides to this type of move are legion and include public dissatisfaction, unintended, deleterious impacts on federal employee morale and performance, push back from groups who will be disadvantaged by the new rules, etc.  At the same time, I would not be able to complete this project quickly.  Rather, it would take months or years to finish this task.  If nothing else, I would ensure that I obtained input from all relevant stakeholders before making any decisions; that process would take a long time to complete.

One benefit of this money saving project--I would probably be able to secure bi-partisan support for at least some of the changes (assuming that I need Congress' approval at all).

d)  I would also suggest that the government reform the tax code as it concerns businesses in order to encourage large, multinational firms to repatriate money in the U.S. and to hire additional workers.  I realize that the President and many members of Congress, as well as a host of pundits,  have discussed this issue; however, they have not yet presented any proposals for achieving this task.  With that in mind, I would quietly consult experts in the relevant fields to help me and my staff construct a framework for tax reform.  I would then submit this blueprint to Congress. 

The tax laws are extremely complex and the issues related to reforming them even more Byzantine.  We would have to identify the stakeholders involved, the impacts (both direct and indirect) of any changes, etc.  At the same time, such a move on my part would not only provide me with leverage in any debate, it would also be publicly popular (or at least it might be publicly popular).

The one thing I would stress is that the proposed changes to tax law should be guided by empirical methods and not by ideology.  Additionally, I and my staff would make it a point to become cognizant of the key, potential consequences of any proposed tax changes, as we would ultimately be responsible for any benefits/harms that arose from the tax reforms.

e) I would ask Congress to increase funding for the IRS by a significant amount in its next budget.  I realize that this topic was brought up unsuccessfully during the last budget debate.  However, I think I might be able to convince at least some Republicans to support this measure if I can demonstrate that the funding hike meets neo-conservative (or neo-liberal) objectives, ie. to ensure a free market for the exchange of goods or something like that.

These are my thoughts on the issue.  They are neither innovative nor erudite; nonetheless, they might provide something of value to readers.

Anthony

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