How to escape the trap of the ‘clean’ debt ceiling vote

Republicans have backed into a corner in the debate over the upcoming vote on raising the country’s debt limit. President Biden says he wants a “clean” vote — that is, no discussion or agreement on other issues — while Republicans have been clamoring for significant, if unspecified, cuts in federal spending.

While Conservative members may be fully justified in their concerns, the probable future is a toss-up until the brink of a deadline dreamed up by the Treasury Department. If history is any guide, Republicans will vote at the last minute to raise the debt ceiling. Because Republicans have no unified, let alone explainable, alternative, they run the risk of looking like stubborn children again.

There is another strategy.

Many analyzes of current spending, the fiscal deficit, and the debt situation have cataloged how much all three have increased over any given period over the past decade. What has not been mentioned, and which has also increased exponentially, is the waste of government programs and spending.

Before jumping off a cliff in pursuit of future spending cuts, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) should ask for a government-wide, serious commitment to identifying and reducing waste in government spending.

Fortunately, there is a clear path forward as to what needs to be done, how to demonstrate the benefits and why it is very likely to find support across administration – although it will spark serious discussion about future spending.

The strategy: Introduce a bill, first proposed by now-retired Congressman Tom Latham (R-Iowa), that would require every government department and agency to methodically review operations and programs, identify waste, and publicize measures. Numerous monitoring organizations document how much the government wastes. Estimates vary widely depending on how “waste” is defined, but it’s at least 10 percent, and in some cases much more.

What is the definition of “waste”? How do we know it’s a political issue? Let’s take politics first. We don’t think any straight-faced Democrat can vote against a new version of the Latham Act. Next, once the idea understands its implications, it creates a unifying platform for all Republicans, including the most die-hard Freedom Caucus cardholders. The Secret Ingredient: Curiously, while the media covered Jeff Zients’ ascension to become the new White House Chief of Staff, the media failed to notice that he was not only Deputy Director of President Obama’s Office of Administration and Budget, but also the first Chief Performance Officer of the country was .

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In 2009, Fortune Magazine declared Zients “efficient, effective, and goal-oriented.” We know he understands the situation, telling the Senate Budget Committee at the time that “the test of any performance management system is whether it’s used,” noting that “the current approach fails that test” and the problem is that “he does not produce meaningful information for the public.” This concept fits squarely with Part IV of McCarthy’s Commitment to America Plan, unveiled September 23: “Accountable Government.”

The political landscape happens to be favorable. Though Democrats have called any failure to raise the debt limit “catastrophic,” the White House can hardly disavow its new tsar, who actually seems to believe that spending cuts can make a difference.

We know they can. In the late 1990’s, the Army and Navy relied on Lean Six Sigma business efficiency techniques. They embraced the initiatives out of desperation to cope with the Clinton administration’s budget cuts and their own dysfunction. These efforts continue and the Army regularly acknowledges the results. In fact, you don’t have to look far for evidence. In 2006, the Electric Boat Company completed 131 LSS projects that resulted in savings of $162 million. They have 200 in the works.

One of the country’s great business pioneers, Michael George, whose company was responsible for the above examples and hundreds of others, fused the processes of “Lean Manufacturing” and Six Sigma. George built successes over decades. Thousands of organizations, including many government agencies, have successfully implemented his teachings. In 2010, he founded an organization, Strong America Now, to try to make waste management an issue in the 2012 election. We fell short of that goal, but George’s efforts serve as a blueprint for the next chapter.

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On the Waste, Fraud and Abuse bumper sticker, most of the news you read is about fraud. But waste deserves your attention. Fortunately, the private sector offers training even for the skeptics. The first definition of waste, illustrated by the Army examples above, is: “What are we doing and can we do it faster and cheaper with the same or better quality?” Restaurant chain Chili’s analyzes its business and publicly commits to cutting costs. You have shared numerous examples. French fries were prepared in individual baskets – bye, individual baskets. As a result, 40 million frying baskets no longer had to be washed individually. Next, the prep cooks spent each morning counting shrimp and bagging them separately. Why? Well, that’s how it’s always been done. They changed that to save $6 million annually.

Virtually every company and businessman has stories like this. When former JPMorganChase executive Marc Shapiro was CEO of Texas Commerce Bank in the mid-1990s, he led the institution through a transformational process to find and remove millions of dollars from annual operating expenses. One of his favorite props was a bank credit card that had been cut up and then taped back together. Administrative staff for international customers had pointed out that they issued cards to customers abroad, cut them up so they couldn’t be used, but then had to tape them back together for internal audits. “Wouldn’t it be better not to exhibit them?” They asked. That reportedly saved $52,000. These are all examples of the first pass to efficiency.

Back to chilies. What did customers not like? A version of beef nachos that have been eliminated. Rita the robot server was cute but didn’t bring any customers so Rita got booted. The next level of analysis addresses the debate that one person’s definition of waste is another person’s slap in the face. Take the example of the new $25 million Lummi Island electric ferry in Whatcom County, Washington. The local congresswoman last year described it as “in dire need of an upgrade.” It replaces a 60-year-old diesel ferry that actually worked well and was liked by local residents.

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In these types of examples, the definition of waste “puts the rubber on the road.” We are not opposed to awarding infrastructure grants; We propose that every potential dollar be critically scrutinized and that Zient’s view – ie useful information – and McCarthy’s – accountability – should be key aspects in decision-making.

Here’s the proposal: Rename the Latham Bill and urge hard-line Republicans to support it enthusiastically. Many thanks to Zients for supporting the principle. Pass the directive with broad bipartisan support and urge the American public to demand results. Ask the question: is it worth spending your grandchildren’s money on? In 2010, we hired economists to run through various financial scenarios. Just applying this analysis to the whole government took us about a quarter of the way to balanced budgets in four years.

As the late Senator Everett Dirksen said, “A billion here, a billion there – it adds up and pretty soon it’s real money.” Today he would use “T” for a trillion. And it adds up.

Peter O’Rourke was acting secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs under President Trump in 2018. He is the former CEO of Strong America Nowand has a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.

Merrie Spaeth was director of media relations for the Reagan White House and communications consultant for Strong America Now.

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