$200 Billion in Suggested Cuts to Come from Green Scissors

Published August 15, 2011

The new Green Scissors report from Friends of the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Public Citizen and The Heartland Institute will soon come out and recommend at least $200 billion of federal spending cuts that would also help the environment.

Because of Heartland’s influence, the report will add new sections on wasteful alternative energy programs, hybrid cars, and other government programs with heavy left-of-center support.

The Green Scissors Campaign began more than 15 years ago to fight to make environmental and fiscal responsibility priorities in Washington. The campaign seeks to eliminate subsidies and programs that both harm the environment and waste taxpayer dollars.

Can’t Have Perfect

Three important points:

First, if we want to cut spending and save the environment, we can’t let the good be the enemy of the perfect. I favor the elimination of all federal subsidies for any form of energy generation and know most or all of my Heartland colleagues do too. Friends of the Earth and Public Citizen favor some sorts of energy subsidies although they agree that most existing ones are environmentally destructive.

Thus, the report proposes the elimination of approximately 90 percent of energy subsides. For me, that’s a very, very good start. There will be plenty of time later to discuss the rest of the subsidies.

Second, I see no reason to quarrel with people who support cutting government for reasons that I don’t think are very good. Best as I understand, genetically engineered crops and animals are an environmental good that people who want a cleaner environment ought to be enthusiastic about. I do, however, think the federal government doesn’t really need to play a role in applied research or product development.  That’s something for the private sector to do.

Thus, while I think that Friends of the Earth opposes genetic engineering research for the wrong reason, I’m happy to stand with them in supporting the elimination of federal funding for it.

Broad Coalitions Necessary

Third, cutting government in meaningful ways is not going to be possible unless we form broad coalitions. It’s pretty simple: A significant portion of the Democratic Party and a decent part of the Republican Party supports bigger government and will generally vote in favor of any program that’s put before them by leadership.  Of those members of Congress who realize that we’re often better off with less government, many will have constituents who rely on (or think they rely on) a given program.

We can’t reasonably ask these members to ignore direct constituent interests. Thus, it’s very hard to build a working majority for most spending cuts.  We need to look for other benefits of cuts if we want to make them a reality. Green Scissors does that.

Eli Lehrer ([email protected]) is a Heartland Institute vice president and head of Heartland’s Center on Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate.