Today’s column is about four really dumb ideas. Let’s start with the House Republican Study Committee’s budget proposal, which, since more than two-thirds of House Republicans belong to the group, is as close as we can find to an official, consensus position of the House majority.
The RSC plan takes seriously the promise in the “Pledge to America” to cut $100 billion in spending this year, and it also ratchets up the spending cuts for future years, starting in 2012, by cutting discretionary domestic spending back to 2006 levels. In other words, not just erasing the Obama years, but also the years when Democrats held a majority in Congress.
This means about a 30 percent cut this year in discretionary domestic spending, via most federal agencies. According to budget expert James Horney of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, it means a 42 percent cut by 2021 in nondefense appropriations from what the Congressional Budget Office says is needed to maintain current funding, as adjusted only for inflation and not for population change or other exigencies.
The RSC plan immediately ends the federal role for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — which most experts would say might cause havoc in a housing market that is not exactly robust. It eliminates federal Medicaid aid to the states, which face a much heavier Medicaid load in the weak economy and which are also in many cases teetering at the edge of insolvency. That cut would push many over.
The RSC plan eliminates a slew of agencies and programs, from public broadcasting to the National Endowment for the Arts to the Legal Services Corp. and the Economic Development Administration. It also kills applied research in energy (!) and eliminates the U.S. Agency for International Development — just when we have developed a broad consensus on the need for smart power, including aid and diplomacy, to combat the threats of terrorism and state disintegration abroad.
It also excises $45 billion from the stimulus package that is already committed to projects, many well under way, but that it says is not yet spent. All of this would be a huge upheaval, starting immediately upon enactment, to many people, especially the unemployed and poor, and to state and local governments. What would these cuts mean to an economy that is still not strong and may need another jolt to keep it growing? Real danger of a major setback.
As for the long-term cuts, which focus exclusively on the sliver of the budget that is discretionary domestic, not on defense or entitlements, if done across the board, they mean 42 percent cuts in veterans’ health, education, FBI agents combating terrorism and organized crime, border security, drug enforcement, federal corrections officers, health research, disease and epidemic control, food inspection, environmental protection, and so on. Horney notes that if the cuts are not across the board, then some functions are cut even deeper.