Cut The Budget By Cutting Republican Sacred Space Cows

Over at Forbes, Cato’s Doug Bandow says that the Republicans need to lead by example:

Presumptive Republican Party nominee Mitt Romney talks tough on spending while proposing few specific reductions—he doesn’t want to anger anyone by targeting their favorite programs. He also promises to greatly increase military outlays, adding more than $2 trillion over the next decade.

At least the House Budget Committee under Republican Chairman Paul Ryan passed a budget package including across-the-board cuts meant to save $310 billion over the next decade. Democrats wanted to cut far less and preferred to squeeze more money out of Americans through higher taxes. The GOP plan still is too little, but at least it is a start. However, it is designed to protect Republican sacred cows.

There is no doubt a lot of fat in the military budget, and Europe should certainly be able to handle its own defense with the end of the Soviet Union. And Ex-Im is welfare for Boeing. But a big earmark that he doesn’t mention (because few policy analysts pay much attention to the civil space program) is a huge one called the Space Launch System (aka the Senate Launch System). This is a rocket that NASA never asked for, and for which there is no need or defined payloads, or funding with which to develop and procure them, but to which Congress (or more precisely, those few in Congress on key committees who actually care and pay attention to how NASA spends its money) insists on diverting two-billion dollars of the agency’s budget each year. It’s not Republican pork per se (it was the brainchild of Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida and Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas) but it has abundant Republican support in those states and districts in which it is being slowly built (at least until it ultimately gets canceled). Given the recent success of SpaceX with its third successful flight of the Falcon 9 rocket with no failures, and that company’s plans to start flying a heavy-lift version next year that could serve NASA’s launch needs, developed on its own dime, SLS should certainly be on the table as part of a broad and serious package of deficit reduction through spending cuts.

Unfortunately, this is one of the few areas in which the Republican presidential nominee’s religion may actually play a role in public policy. One of the biggest beneficiaries of SLS is the state of Utah, home of ATK, the manufacturer of the large solid boosters that Congress has dictated the vehicle use. It is thus supported by not just Senator Orrin Hatch, but the rest of the delegation as well, including representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, Republicans all. While Governor Romney is from Michigan and Massachusetts, and his only personal Utah connection is his salvation of the Salt Lake City Olympics, there will doubtless be a lot of pressure on him from his church to preserve a program that benefits its home state. If he wants to demonstrate that his faith won’t influence his policy decisions, coming out against this particular wasteful Republican sacred cow would be an excellent way to do so.