Budget cutting with a British accent

As things settle into a routine for the new 112th Congress, with the House now under Republican control, the elephant in the room is whether the GOP will have the backbone to break with history, and begin to cut federal spending systemically.  Will the Republicans follow the modern US model – in which “cuts” are little more than decreases in increases – or the new model being implemented by David Cameron in the United Kingdom – across-the-board cuts.  Unfortunately for many of the tea partiers who had high hopes going into this new congressional season, the early signs point to the American model, not the British. 

When Nancy Pelosi assumed the post of Speaker of the House in 2007, she promised Americans there would be “no new deficit spending.” The next four years under her leadership, however, witnessed a spending spree of historic proportions.  The nation’s debt grew by an astonishing $5 trillion, and now stands at an astronomical $14 trillion – a level unsustainable by any legitimate measure. 

Republicans have been quick to make political hay of this fiscal profligacy. Last September’s Republican “Pledge to America” promised that, with exceptions for seniors, veterans, and troops, the GOP would “roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone and putting us on a path to begin paying down the debt, balancing the budget, and ending the spending spree in Washington that threatens our children’s future.” Despite exceptions that doom any subsequent effort to minor success at best, the pledge would represent at least a baby step in the right direction. 

Unfortunately, that baby step already seems to have turned into the “Washington No-Step.” 

According to The New York Times, GOP aides already are back peddling –claiming the $100 billion figure was “hypothetical.” With a straight face, they are asserting that, since they will be able to influence only half of the current, 2010 fiscal year, they should only be held to a standard of cutting at most a paltry $50 billion in spending.  

Of course, cuts to non-defense discretionary spending do not represent a large share of the overall federal spending – about $549 billion out of a $3.7 trillion budget. Needless to say, this is uninspiring. But Republicans have painted themselves into a corner by taking major spending items such as defense and entitlements, off the table.  

Across the Atlantic, British Prime Minister David Cameron is actually implementing the type of fiscally-responsible budget those in Washington are afraid to even whisper – across-the-board cuts to every program (up to 20%); and immediate cuts to the national bureaucracy.    

For Britain’s more timid counterparts in our nation’s Capitol, it should be pointed out that other countries that actually have implemented tough austerity measures such as Cameron is undertaking, not only survived, but thrived – Australia and New Zealand come to mind.  The sky did not fall and, in the case of Australia, its pre-2008 efforts to tackle its then-huge national debt, allowed it to withstand the economic downturn with barely a hiccup to its economy. 

U.S. political leaders, even those with an “R” after their name, do not yet appear ready to take the hard steps and the tough choices. Rather than understanding that across-the-board cuts are the only way over the long term to restore fiscal stability given our current debt level, American politicians try vainly to propose cuts to certain programs but not others; thereby ensuring a never-ending, and ultimately not winnable dispute over spending priorities. 

It’s been a long time since anyone could point to the United Kingdom as an example for us to follow as a path toward fiscal responsibility. That time now has arrived.  Unfortunately, the Republican Party nationally appears too rooted in the past to take advantage of the “Cameron example” and break the mold.  Perhaps we could bring Cameron is as our new Debt-Reduction Czar.

-by Bob Barr, The Barr Code

33 comments Add your comment


January 24th, 2011
6:46 am

Some of us have suggested for sometime that there’s a direct correlation between how much is spent on political campaigns and how much that’s spent on government. Since our last campaign produced record free speech. sorry I meant spending, I can’t say I’m surprised.

sean smith

January 24th, 2011
7:24 am

Republicans want to return to 2008 spending levels, how about also returning to 1996 tax levels when the budget was balanced???


January 24th, 2011
7:29 am

Hey Sean, you want 1996 tax levels? I can live with that. But forget 2008 spending. I want 1996 spending too, adjusted only for population growth and inflation!

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sean smith

January 24th, 2011
7:40 am

I can live with that to as long as the Defense budget is set back to 1996 level of just under $500 Billion


January 24th, 2011
7:55 am

Once again, an AJC piece that sez, “cut spending”. Once again I am forced to chastize the writer: “UR immature and reckless. U can’t “cut spending” and expect to survive the backlash. The lobby representing the dept’s U cut will destroy U. Then you’ll be the homeless guy with the endearingly raspy voice. If’n you were endearing, which you’re not, Bob Barr. (but UR raspy.)

Now I don’t like being overly critical of the AJC bloggers any more than any of you, but Barr wants it, so he gits it. (Cool hand luke).


BlogSoup: Cynthia Tucker’s timely piece about “Tiger Mothers” was gold! That’s cause I went out on a date recently with a Tiger Mother who was coincidentally a Cougar. Not only did I have a really, really fun evening (if’n UB a diggin’ what I be a intimatin’), but I am also now smarter than a 5th grader. (4 those who don’t know, “Tiger Mothers” are the chicks who use flash cards on their newborns to teach them to conjugate verbs, program VCRs, and diagnose mental illness B4 they’re two years old. I have an 18-month-old niece who managed to get me incarcerated in an institution for three months B4 I figured out how to throw furniture through a picture window, and escape. (One flew over).)

Bookman is still coddling his ignoranuses. They write the stupidest things and he just coddles them. I mean, please. Somethings R2 pathetic to be allowed to perpetuate, and someone in authority has to end the Bookman blog stink.

Clyde Wingnut is more irrelevant and hacked than ever lately. He tries to copy other writers too hard, well he tries to copy one writer in particular. I can’t think of his name, nobody comes to mind, drawing a blank here…could it be………Edgar Allen Schmoe???????

Jeff Schultz is such a schmoe-hawk. He thinks stealing jokes from comedians makes him an expert on football playoffs. He couldn’t predict the outcome of a bowel movement. And he stinks. (What-R-the-odds?)

The only blog worth reading is Tucker’s.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

January 24th, 2011
8:05 am

Someone proposed setting all spending at 2006 levels – the last republican congress budget – and freezing it there for 10 years. That would be enough to wipe out the entire Federal debt, not just the “deficit.”


January 24th, 2011
8:17 am

Big Business controls the Congress thru their lobbyists. Any cuts in spending will have to have their approval. If cuts help business, they will happen. If not, no way. It looks like no will be the answer, so look for straight face lies from Congress.

Trapped in a Red state

January 24th, 2011
8:42 am

First mistake by the GOP…insist that the 700 billion tax break for the wealthy stay in effect. Now, they can’t find 100 billion to “cut” because they refuse to look at the 800 billion defense budget, for one.
We are now 700-50 billion or 650 billion heaped on top the current 14 trillion and counting. Until we have cuts… and… tax increases, the deficit will continue to grow. I don’t care which party gets credit…just get it done.

Daniel Boone

January 24th, 2011
9:02 am

CarlosGvv I have to agree.


January 24th, 2011
9:06 am

Keep dreaming. Every dollar Washington receives will be spent.(plus more).

Slash every department that begins with a letter in the alphabet by 50%…….then slash the rest by 70%. If they don’t do that then……………………………….

do it on your own.

Mr. Spock

January 24th, 2011
9:09 am

To spend above ones means is not logical. Imagine trying to sustain your life with no cap on spending, but all th while, we have a limit on income. The result is financial ruin. The tent on this circus is going to come down one day and the American people are going to be the ones to shovel the elephant poop while the people they elect and put into office sit smugly and shrug their shoulders and blame the people before them.

Kilgore … you should go back to reading your comic books. Until your brain develops…stay off the blogs.


January 24th, 2011
9:39 am

Nice column Barr.

The deficit for FY 2009 was $1.4 trillion. The deficit for FY 2010 was $1.3 trillion. That 2010 $1.3 trillion is better appreciated when expressed as 1,300 billion dollars. And Republicans are talking about reducing it to 1,250 billion dollars. Is anyone really impressed?

I didn’t think so.

The last FY complete figures available are from FY 2009. We spent 3,518 billion dollars. We had revenue of 2,105 billion dollars. That is the deficit for FY 2009 of 1,413 billion dollars. Thank you George W.

Obviously spending needs to be cut. Defense, Social Security, Medicare/medicaid and Interest made up 67% of 2009 spending. Yet some want to take those items off the table. Does anyone really believe we can cut 1,000 billion dollars in spending out of the remaining 33% of the budget?

TARP was 4% and is now gone. That leaves 1,044 billion in spending from which to cut if Defense, SS & Medicare are off the table. If all other spending had been cut to zero, there would still have been a deficit of 350 billion dollars in FY 2009.

Why does anyone want to take anything off the table?


January 24th, 2011
10:15 am

Britian is a good example…spending cuts, tax increases, and single-payer healthcare…:-)…

[...] Budget cutting with a British accent | The Barr Code. This entry was posted in Opinion and tagged baby step, british accent, Budget, Code, David Cameron, Elephant, level, minor success, model, Nancy Pelosi, Pledge, political hay, republican control, routine, signs point, spending spree, spree, step in the right direction, Tea, time. Bookmark the permalink. ← January 24th-Belly Laugh Day [...]


January 24th, 2011
10:52 am

When Cameron was mentioned I thought you were referring to Cameroon, the country. Now that is where we should be looking for example, a country triving on mineral[oil] exports. We should be exporting oil, at todays prices the economy would be going full trottle. Instead of the U.S. using oil, it should be using electrical power generated by wind turbines. Wind turbines are the future for the U.S. One wind turbine can generate all the power needed for the energy needs of 750,000 homes. Granted it is a big turbine with a footprint of 100 acres. Global instability climate wise is from fossil fuels, eventually, the earth will over heat and that is that. Do the right thing get Congress to initiate wind power as priority #1.


January 24th, 2011
11:15 am

Barr is wrong on two major points. First, Prime Minister Cameron is not proposing “across-the-board” cuts. He is actually proposing an increase in infrastructure spending. The Economist (magazine, edited in London) recently noted Cameron’s “National Infrastructure Plan”, which will invest over $300 billion over the next five years in Britain’s railways, power stations, roads, internet access and scientific-research base. ($300 billion is a lot for the UK, with population just over 60 million, to our 300 million+). The British Conservatives say they have avoided the temptation to slash capital spending during a downturn; we should do likewise. Yes, we need to keep spending on our roads and other infrastructure, even in times of deficit (or, in Tea Party lingo, “money we don’t have”); it makes no sense to stop doing necessary things just because there is a recession. In good times, we need to run a surplus (as Bill Clinton did) and use a fair chunk of it to pay down debt incurred during recessions (as Al Gore advocated in 2000).

Second, Barr ignores the context within which Cameron operates: a country in which government does a great deal more than ours does (starting with the National Health Service). There’s a great deal more for Cameron to cut.


January 24th, 2011
11:22 am

So, Bob, all this sage fiscal advice tells me that this is exactly what you suggested while you were in Congress. However, I don’t remember you starting a Tea Party back then that would have reigned in the deficit when you were there. Care to comment? (As in the past I know you won’t as it is always better to criticize the other guy from your perch in the ivory tower).

BS Aplenty

January 24th, 2011
12:03 pm

It’s tough, almost impossible, to get those addicted to government to voluntarily go into rehab. Even if the R’s wanted to make cuts would it be possible with the current president and senate? Doubtful.


January 24th, 2011
12:40 pm


There was no need for a Tea Party under Clinton. When he discovered the country rejected his Nazi healthcare he took the hint and dropped it. When Clinton FINALLY figured out his disastrous record setting tax hike was hindering the economy, he decided to cut his own tax increase which led to the “boom” we experienced in the late 90’s. No, then we had a somewhat in-touch President that wasn’t delusional, deranged and entrenched in Marxism.

GOP with Backbone...funny

January 24th, 2011
1:54 pm

10% cuts in spending accross the board per year and swap corporate loop holes for equal savings on payrole taxes.


January 24th, 2011
2:14 pm

Hey, Bob, in today’s column you forgot to mention that Cameron also raised taxes on the high-income folks. After years of GOP deficits and spending, they think that all we have to do is cut legal aid and a few other things and the problems will go away. I’ll expect a retraction concerning Cameronomics.


January 24th, 2011
2:55 pm

Since spending yourself into oblivion has worked out so well for the European countries. How ironic is it that most European countries are trying to get away from their Socialist past while we have a buffoon currently running the show that’s desperately trying to get us saturated into it.


January 24th, 2011
8:51 pm

One huge omission in your article- after the balanced budget we had under Bill Clinton (frequently forgotten or dismissed but true), the deficit went in a tailspin due to Bush’s tax cuts and the two wars we are now trapped in. That created a huge sucking money vacuum that no Tea Partier much less Obama OR John McCain would have gotten us out of. Also: Cameron’s budget cuts may have worked in Britain, but they won’t here. U.S. (and state) bureaucrats learned long ago to cut needed programs and leave “do-nothing” officials in place (themselves and their fat cat friends) when budget cuts are called for. The closing of parks and libraries causes a huge public outcry and the cuts are rescinded. What’s needed is citizen councils to identify the political plum government jobs and eliminate them, not parks and libraries.


January 25th, 2011
3:19 am

Wait, you think the Republicans actually intend on following through with their “cut spending” election time war cry ? LOL

Oh, the boom under Clinton was heavily fueled by the tech boom. Suddenly our job market opened up an new growing sector that needed hundreds of thousands of programmers, networkers, assorted IT professionals.

As with most things, in time the boom calmed down, people figured out how to get more done with fewer people and the demand for those jobs dropped.

What we need is a new “boom” in the provide sector to create new jobs. New jobs, not reseat old ones, but all new ones.


January 25th, 2011
8:02 am

Remember, “Cut Spending” spelled backwards is “moron”.

No spending cuts are possible. The lobbies who promote the spending will attack any representative who shows an ax.

We are being held hostage by the lobbies, as former president Aaron Burr warned us all in his famous, “I hates Alexander Hamilton” speech.

And we all know how THAT ended.

So, if one more idiot sez, “Cut spending”, it’s going to mean that he’s not only a totally imbecile, but also a complete fool.



January 25th, 2011
10:24 am

Mr. Barr,
Are you really working as an image polisher for Baby Doc of Haiti?

The AJC Stinks

January 25th, 2011
10:39 am

One thing will not be in the State of the Union, but I bet President Bozo doesn’t talk about the vicious attack on a white female Wendy’s worker by a pack of black teenage high school girls in New York. Why do we pay taxes to send these hoods to school? Time to zero out all federal money going to education. Here is the link: http://www.myfoxny.com/dpp/news/local_news/queens/worker-hurt-in-fight-with-teens-at-wendys-in-queens-20110124

The AJC Stinks

January 25th, 2011
10:41 am

Kilgore cannot spell, “Cut Spending” equals a very smart move to save the dollar. “Tax and Spend” equals stupidity.


January 25th, 2011
5:47 pm

dude, I saw you on tv last night. representing a dictator? ah, now he wants to give money frozen in swiss accounts back to the haitians. When did that earthquake hit again? Over a year ago. that guy you were with didn’t even try to play it down. what did he say? something about the good and the bad but he’s all good now. how do you sleep at night?


January 25th, 2011
6:07 pm

Gosh George Bush started two wars, gave taxpayers $600 each, cut taxes, and imploded the economy……Bailed out the banks and AIG.

Seems like NOW is the Time for Republican’s to do what they always do……

Create a larger Government ?


January 25th, 2011
9:37 pm

The Republicans keep saying we are at war. We have had defense budgets as if we are at war since WWII, which was fine until the the end of the cold war. BUT, since the 1962 we have had peacetime tax rates. If we are at war like everyone says, maybe we should increase the tax rate to war time rates, with tax brackets adjusted for inflation…..

For those who do not know tax history, during WWII the tax rate was 94-95% for those earning more than $400K / year (Adjusted for inflation, that would be $4M/year today). In the 50’s the rate was reduced to 91%. JFK pushed through the reduction to 75% in 1962 and 70% in 1965. It stayed at 70% until 1981 when it was reduced to 50%. 1986 say the reduction to 39.5%…..

Contrary to popular belief, cutting taxes on the rich did NOT create more jobs. Of course I am old enough to remember when Republican’s campaigned that government should never have a balanced budget….

To get us out of the financial mess we are in, we HAVE to raise taxes up to wartime rates. We HAVE to put in place tariffs to make production in the USA competitive (like we did in the 1800’s, and China is doing now). AND it will be hard. The alternative is we will have hyperinflation (it may be too late for that) and within a generation will be a third world nation.

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