Looking for ways to cut your household expenses?

If you ask the Congressional Budget Office to list some ways to trim your outlays, you might get something like this:

Give away one of your children. Charge rent from any who remain.

If your children get an allowance, halve it.

Tell the electric company to buzz off. Instead, have family members take turns on a treadmill (saving the cost of a gym membership, too) hooked to a generator to supply power.

Go on a no-frills diet: Eat anything you want; just don't swallow it.

Close down all but one room of your house/apartment in the winter.

Watch TV (and, if possible, eat dinner) with the neighbors -- at their place.

You get the idea. There are lots of ways to save money, provided you have true grit. Expert advice, from something like the CBO, expands your possibilities.

This is not to say CBO is a mean-spirited outfit. Tough, yes. But not mean. What it does is its job, which is to point out to Congress ways government could save money. CBO doesn't pass judgment, just delivers ideas with cost-saving estimates.

CBO's job is to come up with an annual hit list of ways to save. Period. Insiders know that most CBO suggestions will never come to pass. But first-time readers of the hit list run the risk of having a nervous breakdown when they see their pet programs or perks on the firing line.

Each year a new group of folks sees the CBO list for the first time and goes into shock. That's because some past proposals -- such as eliminating the deduction for home mortgage payments -- sounded horrible to homeowners. A politician who endorsed such an idea would be lucky, in his or her next job, to be working as an attendant in a restroom in downtown Siberia.

With that explanation -- that this is a hit list, not necessarily a reality list -- here's the latest group of ideas CBO has bounced off Congress. This being a federal column, we've picked juicy items designed to scare the dickens out of civil servants and retirees. For instance:

Defer cost-of-living adjustments for civil service annuitants.

Limit some of the cost-of-living adjustments for federal retirees.

Reduce cost-of-living adjustments for middle- and higher-income federal retirees.

Modify the salary used to set federal pensions.

Increase employee contributions for federal pensions.

Restrict the government's matching contributions (now a maximum of 5 percent of salary) to the Thrift Savings Plan.

Extend and increase copayments for outpatient prescriptions filled at Veterans Affairs pharmacies.

Reduce funding for law enforcement efforts to control illegal drugs.

Eliminate federal anti-drug advertising.

Impose an excise tax on nonretirement fringe benefits.

Horrified? Good! If not, we -- and the CBO -- have failed.

These are but a few of the many money-saving proposals CBO has handed over to Congress. For other Americans, they include taxing a higher percentage of Social Security benefits, limiting the amount of mortgage interest that is tax-deductible, repealing the Davis-Bacon Act (whatever that is), adding 12 cents to the federal gasoline tax (which is already higher than the price of the gasoline itself), eliminating financial aid to Egypt and Israel, canceling the space station program and U.S. government overseas broadcasts, taxing credit unions as if they were banks and a variety of things dealing with capital gains and child-care credits.

Something on the list -- whoever you are, whatever you do -- is designed to give you heartburn. But for federal workers, we saved the best (meaning worst) for last: CBO says Uncle Sam could raise lots of money if federal agencies with their own discounted parking lots would, gasp, charge federal employees the same rates they would pay in a commercial parking lot.

President Carter proposed the same thing in his first (and only) term.

Four Percent Raise -- Now!

How would you like to give yourself the equivalent of a 4 percent pay raise -- effective immediately? For 200,000 federal employees, the option is there -- if they know what to do and if they do it.

For details on the raise, which would be in addition to the planned January increase, check this space tomorrow.

Sunday, May 30, 1999