Why should Newt Gingrich have all the fun? Let's all play the budget game.
Imagine yourself a fresh-faced, eager, Republican member of the House. Your party is in charge for the first time in 40 years, and you're going to fulfill the "Contract With America."
This is the campaign document that promises a tax credit of $500 for every child in middle-class families, creates special new individual retirement accounts, cuts the tax rate on capital gains in half, offers tax relief for small business, repeals last year's increase in taxes on Social Security recipients, and modifies the marriage penalty for two-income families.
The cost to the Treasury: about $148 billion over five years, according to the Republican caucus on the House Budget Committee.
Relying on supply-side theory, the Republicans figure that the tax cuts eventually will generate so much new business activity that some of those foregone revenues will be recouped. But current budget rules don't recognize that possibility.
So the question remains: How do we get there from here?
That's the challenge before you if you enter The Times' Budget-Buster Sweepstakes.
Below is a menu of possible spending cuts and revenue increases--totaling, in all, more than $300 billion--gathered from the Congressional Budget Office and the Republican budgeteers.
Your task: Pick any combination of these items adding up to $148 billion to pay for the Contract With America. Then, explain how to get the package through both houses of Congress and win President Clinton's signature. Remember, you want to please the skeptical masses who voted Republican--but you don't want angry interest groups screaming for your head.
Send your entries to me in care of the Los Angeles Times Washington Bureau, 1875 I St. NW, Suite 1100, Washington, DC 20006. First prize winner gets a genuine Washington souvenir T-shirt--and a heroic tribute in this column that's sure to be read by the Republican leadership.
OK. Let's jump right into the budget pot.
Defense and Space
Military spending is still the biggest chunk of federal outlays. The Cold War is over, but American military planners worry about such hot spots as Bosnia, Haiti and the Middle East. Still, we could:
* Cancel the Titan IV missile, used by the Air Force to launch early warning satellites. Five-year savings: $4.4 billion
* Retire two aircraft carriers early and get rid of some aircraft squadrons. $8.6 billion
* Cancel the new F-22 fighter. With the Soviet Union out of the game, the F-15 can dominate any other air force in combat. $12.3 billion
* Eliminate all but one of the Army's light divisions. Desert Storm used only heavy divisions, those with tanks and armored vehicles. $13.9 billion
* Cancel the C-17 transport aircraft. Why not buy commercial planes when we need to expand the air fleet? $15.7 billion
* Cut the military through early retirements with reduced pensions at 15 years of service. $5 billion
* Cancel the space station. Scientists are dubious of its benefits. $11.4 billion
Is it time for everyone getting federal dollars to make a sacrifice?
* Millions of workers in private industry won't get a raise next year. Let's skip the annual cost of living increase for federal employees and retirees, and Social Security and Medicare recipients. Savings over five years: a whopping $54.9 billion
* Reduce federal aid for mass transit to 50% of the cost of projects, from the upward of 80% Washington now pays. Local governments would decide if they really need those costly subway systems. $11.8 billion
* Cancel federal grants to cities and counties for waste-water treatment plants. $13.4 billion
* Eliminate federal grants to airports, which could raise funds with passenger taxes, concession fees and landing charges. $9.2 billion
* Scrap community development block grants for housing, roads and economic development. $23.9 billion
* Drop low-income energy assistance. $11.1 billion
* Charge market rates for power from federal hydroelectric plants. $4.8 billion
* Farmers believe in free markets. Let's free them by scrapping the "deficiency payments" they get when the price of corn, cotton, wheat and rice drop below targets. $11.1 billion
* Stop subsidies for agricultural exports. $4.2 billion
* Washington pays 50% to 83% of the costs of Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Medicaid and food stamps. Reduce the federal share to 45% for 14 relatively wealthy states--including California and New York. $36 billion
* Sell the government's fleet of trucks, buses and cars, except for those operated by the Postal Service. Why should the Agriculture Department have 34,000 vehicles and the Interior Department a fleet of 26,000? $9 billion
* Get rid of the Amtrak railroad operating subsidy and federal financing of track improvements in the Northeast. $3.1 billion
* Change the Social Security formula to reduce the average benefit payment by 3% for future retirees. $6 billion
Can we collect more money for the services that the government offers certain groups of citizens?
* Small private planes don't pay their full share for using the nation's air traffic control network. $7 billion in new revenue
* Charge interest on student loans during school years, while continuing to let students defer payments until graduation. $9.5 billion
* Medicare beneficiaries pay a monthly fee for the portion of the program that covers doctor bills, but the current premium pays only 20% of the true costs. Boost it to 25%, raising the 1996 premium to $51.90 per month from the scheduled $43.30. $17.4 billion
* Increase Medicare recipients' co-payment for doctor visits and services to 25% from the current 20%. $16.3 billion