Will Congress Actually Make Those Budget Cuts?

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On the face of it, there isn’t much of surprise in the Bush administration’s FY2007 budget proposal, which was released today. Lots of painful cuts to programs for the poor that don’t really affect the fiscal picture all that much but will leave a lot of people diseased and dying. Lots of unnecessary tax breaks for the wealthy and extravagant increases in defense spending that will affect the fiscal picture quite a bit. And an increase in the deficit as a result. It’s cruel and innumerate—that always-adorable combination. What’s surprising, though, is that the administration is proposing bigger cuts to domestic programs this year than it has in years previous.

Normally we see a bit of a kabuki dance during budget season. The White House comes out in February and makes a big fanfare about limiting the growth of domestic spending and then, after much praise, Congress quietly refuses to go along, seeing as most senators and representatives actually want to get re-elected, and most of the programs up for hacking are actually popular. And the press mysteriously refuses to point out that this is all a stupid charade meant to allow the president to appear “fiscally responsible” and appease the slobbering fan base without actually doing anything. Still, life goes on, more or less.

But this year, the proposed cuts are much deeper than anything contemplated in the past—the president has suggested cutting 141 programs, including food aid to the poor, at a paltry “savings” of some $182 billion over five years—which makes one wonder whether Republicans in Congress will start to feel some pressure to start hacking away, especially with a deficit that’s still out-of-control, the costs of Iraq and Katrina rising, and “earmarks” and corruption getting so much media play. Cuts of that sort would be a terrible thing—from a liberal-left perspective, it’s much better to have the GOP act like a bunch of free-spending hypocrites than to actually go and terminate programs like these (from CBPP):

The Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides nutritional food packages for less than $20 a month to more than 400,000 low-income elderly people, one-third of whom are over age 75;

The Preventative Care Block Grant, which is operated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and provides grants to states for preventative health services for underserved populations;

The TRIO Talent Search program, under which colleges and universities — and in many cases, Historically Black Colleges and Universities — assist disadvantaged secondary school students (two-thirds of whom are minority) by providing them with academic, career, and financial counseling so that they will be better be able to finish high school and attend college;

The Community Services Block Grant, which provides funding for a range of social services and other types of assistance to low-income families and elderly and disabled individuals.

Or stick the knife in programs like these:

Section 202 housing for the low-income elderly — cut 26 percent in 2007 below the 2006 level, even without adjustment for inflation.

Section 811 housing for low-income people with disabilities — cut 50 percent in 2007.

The Community Development Block Grant formula grant program — cut 30 percent in 2007.

Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) — which promotes community policing, primarily by putting police on the streets, would be cut 79 percent.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant — The President’s budget calls for cuts in discretionary child care funding totaling $1.03 billion over the next five years as compared to FY 2006 funding levels adjusted for inflation (funding levels also would fall without adjusting for inflation). Data from the President’s budget show that the funding levels proposed would mean that the number of children receiving child care assistance in 2011 would drop by more than 400,000 as compared to the number receiving assistance in 2005 and by more than 650,000 as compared to 2000 levels.

Now it’s also an election year, so the chances that Republicans in Congress will actually work up the nerve to force the elderly to live in cardboard boxes and eat dog food seem slim, but it’s certainly something to be nervous about.


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