Scooping up Uncle Sam's loose change

By Rich Barbieri, deputy managing editor


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- President Obama's bipartisan debt commission didn't hold back on making sweeping recommendations to tame federal deficits.

Cut all spending. Boom! Overhaul the tax code. Pow!!

But cutting $4 trillion from the debt over a decade's time isn't easy. The report released on Wednesday makes clear, as have the commissioners, that fixing the country's fiscal problems will require sacrifice from all corners.

To that end, the panel didn't spare the small stuff.

Here are some of the suggestions for cuts that in a $3.5 trillion budget amount to quarters between the sofa cushions. (Take the CNNMoney debt quiz)

White House and Congress: The report calls for a 15% cut in their budgets. That would save $800 million a year. Spending on Congress -- uh, by Congress -- rose nearly 50% between 2000 and 2010, the report said.

"Last year Congress gave itself a nearly 4% budget increase," the report said.

Lawmakers' pay: Speaking of Congress ... the commission calls for a three-year freeze on the pay of the 535 elected officials who roam the Capitol. It did not tally how much money that would save. Most members of Congress make $174,000 a year.

"Unlike most Americans, members of Congress benefit from an automatic salary increase every single year -- deserved or not," the commission wrote. "Before Congress can ask the American people to sacrifice, it should lead by example."

Travel, vehicles and printing: Uncle Sam's travel budget zoomed up 56% between 2001 and 2006. His fleet of vehicles has grown by 20,000 in the past four years. And his printing costs have gone up despite the ubiquity of the Internet.

So the commission recommends that agencies cap travel budgets at no more than 80% of 2010 levels and do more telecommuting. The panel would also slash the government's $4 billion annual budget for vehicles by 20%. To shave on printing costs, agencies should distribute more documents electronically.

Cut, cut, then invest: The panel would establish a new bipartisan "cut and invest" committee. Its mission: Cut the discretionary federal budget (i.e., the part that doesn't fund entitlement programs like Social Security or pay interest on the debt) by 2% every year. Half the booty would be put toward savings and half toward worthwhile programs.

The report singles out a few potential targets. One of them is job training. Nine separate federal agencies fund a total of 44 such programs, according to the report. How about the 20 programs at 12 agencies devoted to the "study of invasive species"? Or the 105 programs charged with promoting "participation in science, technology, education and math."

"Many of these programs cannot demonstrate to Congress or taxpayers they are actually accomplishing their intended purpose," the report notes.

There's plenty more. Go to the commission's Web site and see for yourself. To top of page

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