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February 14, 2011

When $74 Billion Just Isnít Enough

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Last week, Rep. Harold Rogers (R., KY), the chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, announced the Republican spending cuts to President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget. The sweeping GOP spending cuts lop off over $74 billion of programmed spending by the Obama Administration, and gut hundreds of programs popular with Democrats, inner city voters, and liberal special interests.


To demonstrate their iron-clad resolve, the GOP plans to propose these cuts to the pending Continuing Resolution, the bill that keeps the federal government funded through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends September 30. If the president and Democrat majority in the Senate fight the cuts, they’d risk a shutdown of the federal government.


That must mean that the Republicans and Tea Party voters love the plan and embrace the cuts, right?


Not so fast, but more on that later.


Republicans ran against the administration’s prolific spending and expanded government. All across America, GOP candidates ran on a platform of turning back Obamacare, undoing stimulus spending, and restoring a sense of fiscal discipline.


Remember, of course, that the promise was being made by the same party that brought us No Child Left Behind, two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) that cost us $1 billion per week, and Medicare Part D, the largest expansion of social programs since the Great Society programs of the 1960s.


Don’t let pesky historical facts get in the way of a good political argument, though.


According to the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives, they intend to avoid the mistakes of the past and listen to the mandate that swept them into the leadership suites in the U.S. Capitol. Yeah, right!


At first blush, the list of cuts seems both historic and significant. The following list comes right from the U.S. House Appropriations Committee website:


The List of 70 Spending Cuts to be included in the Continuing Resolution follows:


Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies – $30M

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy – $899M

Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability – $49M

Nuclear Energy – $169M

Fossil Energy Research – $31M

Clean Coal Technology – $18M

Strategic Petroleum Reserve – $15M

Energy Information Administration – $34M

Office of Science – $1.1B

Power Marketing Administrations – $52M

Department of Treasury – $268M

Internal Revenue Service – $593M

Treasury Forfeiture Fund – $338M

GSA Federal Buildings Fund – $1.7B

Office of National Drug Control Policy – $69M

International Trade Administration – $93M

Economic Development Assistance – $16M

Minority Business Development Agency – $2M

National Institute of Standards and Technology – $186M

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – $336M

National Drug Intelligence Center – $11M

Law Enforcement Wireless Communications – $52M

US Marshals Service – $10M

Federal Bureau of Investigation – $74M

State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance – $256M

Juvenile Justice – $2.3M

Concerns of Police survivors – $600M

National Aeronautics and Space Administration – $379M

National Science Foundation – $139M

Legal Services Corporation – $75M

Environmental Protection Agency – $1.6B

Food Safety and Inspection Services – $53M

Farm Service Agency – $201M

Agriculture Research – $246M

Natural Resource Conservation Service – $46M

Rural Development Programs – $237M

Women, Infants, and Children – $758M

International Food Aid grants – $544M

Food and Drug Administration – $220M

Land and Water Conservation Fund – $348M

National Archives and Record Service – $20M

Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Authority – $1.4B

EPA Energy Star Program – $7.4M

EPA Green House Gases Reporting Registry – $9M

United States Geological Survey – $27M

EPA Cap and Trade Technical Assistance – $5M

EPA State and Local Air Quality Management – $25M

Fish and Wildlife Service – $72M

Smithsonian – $7.3M

National Park Service – $51M

Clean Water State Revolving Fund – $700M

Drinking Water State Revolving Fund – $250M

EPA Brownfields – $48M

Forest Service – $38M

National Endowment for the Arts – $6M

National Endowment for the Humanities – $6M

Job Training Programs – $2B

Community Health Centers – $1.3B

Maternal and Child Health Block Grants – $210M

Family Planning – $327M

Poison Control Centers – $27M

Centers for Disease Control – $755M

National Institutes of Health -$1B

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services – $96M

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program Contingency fund – $400M

Community Services Block Grant – $405M

High Speed Rail – $1B

Federal Aviation Administration Next Gen – $234M

Amtrak – $224M

Housing and Urban Development Community Development Fund – $530M


(All reductions are compared to the president’s fiscal year 2011 request.)


Good stuff, right? Major cuts planned for certain agencies and programs, especially those that GOP constituencies don’t care for; like AmeriCorps, the Community Service Block Grant, family planning, and federal health centers. All of that wasteful spending in the urban areas and minority population centers.


The list of programs to be cut reads like the wish list of promises made by President Obama on the campaign trail in 2008; and don’t think that’s a mistake. It’s the result of careful planning. Democrats have already begun the chorus of doom; Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., MD) has started the expected weeping and wailing.


Democrat lawmakers are accusing the GOP of turning back the clock on the poor and vulnerable, but isn’t that what they always say? Similarly, the GOP is preaching the need for a steady diet of cuts and sacrifice. The song is hackneyed: government should be like regular Americans and live within its means.


So, why aren’t the Tea Party advocates dancing in the street? Why aren’t we seeing and hearing Amen and Hallelujah from the voters who gave Republicans their so-called mandate?


The answer is simple: $74 billion is a drop in the budget bucket. The list of cuts rolled out by Republicans does almost nothing to reign in the spending spree and borrowing frenzy of the last three administrations, one Republican (George W. Bush) and two Democratic (Bill Clinton and Barack Obama).


If the best that the House GOP majority can do is slice a laundry list of discretionary program spending by $74 billion, without touching Medicare/Medicaid, the Pentagon and Social Security, then we will continue to be dependent on the Chinese to back our mounting debt and finance our future government operations through investment.


The non-discretionary spending is the real iceberg, the 90% fiscal problem that cannot be seen below the surface, lying in wait for the ship of state to sail too closely by.


Tea Party leaders are being joined by the most ardent conservatives in Congress in calling for over $100 billion in cuts, believing that without broader cuts and major changes to non-discretionary spending, the real problem never gets addressed.


If the best that the new GOP House majority can do is cut $74 billion from the budget, and claim success after having done so, they will have missed an historic opportunity to truly address the nation’s fiscal challenges and cement their own legacy.


If they duck the real problem, they’ll prove they lack both guts and intelligence. Wait, that’s an oxymoron: Congressmen with guts and intelligence.


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