I have not forsaken the challenge. Unfortunately, I have been stricken with a computer failure and spent two weeks trying to get a new system up and running. I'm still not caught up... But I will return to the blog (eventually) and post on a regular basis again.
I would, however, like to take this moment to admit - for the record - that I *am* struggling with the challenge. Changing budget allocations, finding 'lost' revenue streams, and locating ways and means to cut the spending is certainly doable and a worthwhile endeavor. However... to me, there is SO MUCH *in* the budget that just don't belong there! Trying to figure out how much to spend on (for example) the National Endowment for the Arts is a waste of time, since IMHO it shouldn't be there in the first place. There are MANY other, less obvious examples, e.g., how much R&D money should be spent to support stem cell research? (BTW - My short answer is "none" - not because the research is not worthwhile -or unethical in some way - but why is it considered a proper allocation of taxpayer funds to compensate profit-seeking private company research efforts at all?) A personal arena I very much support - NASA and space exploration - is in a similar pickle: no matter how much I like it and support it: is funding it a proper function of government? Hmmm...
In consideration of this, I have (naturally) developed a different spin on the topic: Rather than waste our collective time trying to FIX a budget that is clearly bloated beyond repair - change the spending process entirely... Here goes:
Lets use a 2-year budgeting window, i.e., the Real World tax revenue receipts for 2009 define the total budget amount available for 2011 spending. Spending in that year (as approved in 2010) uses defined percentages allocated to specific areas: Defense spending (all depts) gets 35%, direct payments to individuals (includes medicare, welfare, social security, etc.) gets 35%, the federal bureaucracy (all non-military branches) is 10%, 10% for deficit reduction (retained as a savings program if no deficit), 5% for R&D investments (NASA, CDC, et.al.), 5% for emergency/discretionary ("pork") projects.
All amounts to be based on revenue already received. If tax revenues go DOWN, spending (by definition) goes down - likewise, revenue increases allows spending increases, but only within the percentage allocations. Micro-managing the budget from Congress effectively gets reduced, but not completely eliminated. Percentages can be changed by Congress with 2/3 vote, otherwise remain fixed: must equal 100%. Can only increase percentage in one area by reducing another. There is an issue with WHO decides exactly how the monies are spent within the dept, but the AMOUNT to spend is already defined. I'd prefer to get micro-managing budgets and programs away from Congress, but it still needs an effective means for accountability.
Of course, this system REALLY starts to work if used in conjunction with implementing the Fair Tax, so that any tax increases cannot be "targeted" to those group fallen out of favor, but instead are borne by the citizenry as a whole (better opportunity for Real Oversight).
Caveat: This is just an idea in the early stages, and - NO - I haven't really nailed down all of the details; this is a work-in-progress. The approach has many of the same pitfalls as other proposals. I think it would be just as fun to play with the percentages as trying to go line-by-line down the budget process, trying to decide how long each hair should be on the 800-pound gorilla of a budget we have.