In the 1993 movie Dave the faux president (played by Kevin Kline) calls in his best friend (played by Charles Grodin) and they stay up all night balancing the federal budget, not by raising taxes, but by cutting unnecessary and wasteful spending.
If only it were that easy.
Most presidents have talked about cutting spending, but few succeed because Congress holds the power of the purse and is reluctant to give it up.
There have been serious and not so serious attempts to reduce government spending, from Ronald Reagan's Grace Commission to something called OMB Circular A-76, a memo from the Office of Management and Budget to all federal agencies that has been around in one form or another over several administrations. A-76's 2003 revision calls for the identification of "all activities performed by government personnel as either commercial or inherently governmental."
To borrow a song from the musical, Annie Get Your Gun, commercial ventures should look at government and say about many of its functions, "Anything you can do, I can do better," and then they should be allowed to do it.
The model for this could be the government of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. During her time in office, she privatized many industries and utilities previously owned by the government because she believed, correctly, that the private economy could do a better and less expensive job of running them. Her philosophy, mostly absent from the film The Iron Lady, was: "We should not expect the state to appear in the guise of an extravagant good fairy at every christening, a loquacious companion at every stage of life's journey, and the unknown mourner at every funeral."
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney could follow her example by challenging the country to look deep inside its Puritan DNA and rediscover the principle of what might be called the three L's: limited government, liberty, and living within our means. Give 'em "L," Mitt!
Here's what Romney should do and it might be the strategy that could work to force even a Republican Congress to obey what the Constitution and common sense require. If elected, Romney should pledge to bring in a team of outside auditors and private entities to determine what government ought to be doing and what it might outsource. If a private company can perform a government function with greater efficiency and at lower cost, let it. If a government agency is redundant or no longer necessary, eliminate it.
No "interest group" should be able to exercise more influence than that of taxpaying citizens.
Traditional spring cleaning finds many of us going through closets, basements, and attics, disposing of things we no longer want or need. Toward the same goal, Romney should lead a "spring cleaning" of government.
Romney might cite the Congressional Pig Book published by Citizens Against Government Waste. The 2012 edition, as always, contains examples of wasteful spending in many government agencies. This year's Pig Book shows that while "the number and cost of earmarks have decreased dramatically since fiscal year 2010," the accurate amount of waste is difficult to figure because "transparency and accountability have regressed immeasurably."
Two recent reports from the Government Accountability Office name 51 areas of duplication, overlapping, and fragmented government functions, which, if ended, would save an estimated $400 billion. There's a start to which no one should have an objection.
While President Obama promotes his "Buffett Tax" on millionaires and billionaires, Romney should focus on the government's waste of taxpayer money. If government is such a poor steward of what it now receives, why should it be given more?
That can be a winning issue, not only for Romney but also for Republican congressional candidates. The pledge they should be signing is not only the "no new taxes" one from Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, but a new one not to support any additional spending until unnecessary expenditures are cut by transferring many government functions to the private sector and retiring those that are not needed.
© 2012 Tribune Media Services Inc.