Mitt Romney wants to get Dick Cheney to shoot Big Bird. The argument can be made that you have to start somewhere and that’s what he seems to be doing. People see it as wasteful spending and it is an easy one to tackle. Federal funding for PBS is $444m which would certainly cover my mortgage but, given the the deficit is $1.1 trillion, foreclosing on Oscar’s trash can is like giving up water as the first step of a diet.
The fastest growing, non-defense, part of the deficit are not these discretionary programs (I’m not saying there isn’t waste there, just slicing up the pie) but the entitlement programs. As the population gets older, more people draw Social Security and fewer pay into it. The levers to fix it are increase social security taxes, increase minimum ages, decrease the corresponding payout percentages or gut the system. No one is going to get elected if they propose any of the above. Medicare/Medicaid is a mess. There’s $2b/year in erroneous billings and fraud. If you paid a company 10% of whatever savings they could clean up, the government would still save $1.8b. Cut fossil fuel subsidies, ethanol subsidies and tighten the purse strings on foreign aid. If they’re not going to make changes or reduce but still want to reduce the deficit, it means higher taxes (either the rate or elimination of deductions like mortgage interest).