A new-age budget hit list includes Marines, NATO ON POLITICS

January 04, 1993|By Lars-Erik Nelson | Lars-Erik Nelson,Tribune Media Services

WASHINGTON -- As President-elect Bill Clinton and his Cabinet nominees ponder the things they can do, here are some things, very expensive things, we can henceforth do without:

* The North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It was created to oppose a Soviet threat that no longer exists. It is now desperately trying to find new threats -- like ethnic unrest in Central Europe -- to keep itself alive. Do you see it keeping the peace in Serbia? No. Then goodbye, NATO. Thank you, but goodbye.

* The Marine Corps. It was created to carry out amphibious landings on enemy soil. Its last such landing, opposed by enemy force, was at Inchon, in the Korean War. Yes, we probably need the Marines' capacity for rapid deployment, but we don't need its separate military bureaucracy. Give the Marines to the Army or, if you have some nostalgic affection for the Marines, give the Army to the Marines. In any case, we don't need both.

* Likewise, we do not need five separate and distinct military air forces: Air Force, Navy, Army, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Again, we need the functions -- carrier aviation, close-ground support, air defense, long-range bombing and coastal patrol. But no, we don't need five separate bureaucracies struggling for their share of defense dollars.

* Veterans hospitals. Most of their patients are now poverty cases who happen to be veterans or their families. A national health insurance system, as Mr. Clinton proposes to create, would make the VA's health network redundant. Well done, VA! And goodbye.

* The Agriculture Department. It has 100,000 bureaucrats and it distributes benefits to 300,000 farmers -- i.e., one bureaucrat for every three farmers receiving government aid. "It's an obsolete agency built on an obsolete thesis," says Scott Hodge, a budget specialist at the Heritage Foundation. "Preserving the family farmer is like trying to preserve the family drugstore against Wal-Mart." It's a nice thought, but why should taxpayers foot the bill -- especially since so much of the money goes to millionaires?

* The National Endowment for the Arts. It hands out money, not necessarily to artists but certainly to artsy-seeming people who know how to get grants from government bureaucracies. And its taste is exceptionally poor. I have a right to say this because I am paying the bill. So are you.

* The U.S. Information Agency and the Voice of America. Both are relics of World War II and the Cold War. Both have been superseded by CNN and MTV, which bring American news and culture in living color to TV sets around the world. Broadcasting government propaganda by static-ridden short wave is obsolete.

* The Department of Energy. Hand its nuclear programs back to the Pentagon. If research in new energy technology is needed, let the oil companies and public utilities pay for it. They are the ones who are going to profit in the end.

* The Department of Commerce. Do you realize that you, under our supposedly free-enterprise system, are paying the salary of an assistant secretary of commerce for tourism marketing? Why is that a government responsibility?

If we really do need to promote our exports, let the State Department do it. In this age when presidents call each other by phone at the drop of the hat, the embassies don't have much else to do. Spin off the Census Bureau and make it self-financing. Much of what it does is market research for private industry, anyway.

Mr. Hodge at the Heritage Foundation has his own hit list. To name a few: dairy price supports, the National Helium Reserves, the Small Business Administration, the space station, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Amtrak and the Interstate Commerce Commission.

Some of Heritage's targets are ideological. Conservatives are quick to kill programs that help working people but they often support big-bucks boondoggles like Star Wars.

My list is non-ideological, a hit list for a new era, when we face new threats to our safety and prosperity -- not the threats of the Depression and the Cold War.

Mr. Clinton promises a government that will serve our needs, not just perpetuate itself. So let's start cutting.

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