A Look at the Cuts in the New, Leaner 2011 Budget
The House Appropriations Committee released the final 2011 continuing resolution text, which reflects the agreement between Congressional leaders and the President. You can view a summary of the CR and the list of final program cuts. Or, if you’re daring, you can read the full text.
First of all, there’s a 0.2% across-the-board cut to all agencies and accounts. That’s for starters. The Obama Administration did engage in some sleight-of-hand to get to the $38.5 billion in cuts, however.
The full details of Friday’s agreement weren’t being released until late Monday when it was officially submitted to the House. But the picture already emerging is of legislation financed with a lot of one-time savings and cuts that officially “score” as savings to pay for spending elsewhere, but that often have little to no actual impact on the deficit.
…the cuts that actually will make it into law are far tamer, including cuts to earmarks, unspent census money, leftover federal construction funding, and $2.5 billion from the most recent renewal of highway programs that can’t be spent because of restrictions set by other legislation. Another $3.5 billion comes from unused spending authority from a program providing health care to children of lower-income families […]
For instance, the spending measure reaps $350 million by cutting a one-year program enacted in 2009 for dairy farmers then suffering from low milk prices. Another $650 million comes by not repeating a one-time infusion into highway programs passed that same year. And just last Friday, Congress approved Obama’s $1 billion request for high-speed rail grants — crediting themselves with $1.5 billion in savings relative to last year.
Republicans also claimed $5 billion in savings by capping payments from a fund awarding compensation to crime victims. Under an arcane bookkeeping rule — used for years by appropriators — placing a cap on spending from the Justice Department crime victims fund allows lawmakers to claim the entire contents of the fund as budget savings. The savings are awarded year after year.
Now this all looks to be true, except for high speed rail, which really is a reduction and a painful one. But because the budget imposes a lot of cuts in a small area, you could also write a story that reads like this:
The spending bill would maintain the maximum Pell grant award for low-income students at $5,550. But it would end a new Pell grant program for summer school students, saving hundreds of millions of dollars.
President Obama successfully resisted Republican efforts to take all federal money from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. But the spending bill cuts money for the program that finances many family-planning services provided by Planned Parenthood and other organizations, Title X of the Public Health Service Act. The appropriation would be reduced to $300 million, from $317 million, Congressional aides said.
The Environmental Protection Agency, which has been in the cross hairs of the newly empowered House Republicans, took one of the largest hits, according the House appropriations documents.
The agency’s budget under the agreement is reduced by $1.6 billion, or 16 percent from last year’s level. Specifically, funding levels for Land and Water Conservation Fund programs were reduced 33 percent.
I’ll just add a bit to that. Food safety is cut 1% below the previous year’s level. The Labor Department program for green jobs has been cut. The Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund, which helps fund its criminal investigations, got a $500 million hit. The Special Supplemental Feeding Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) has been cut $500 million from 2010 levels. The total reduction in the Financial Services area, barely a year out from passing Dodd-Frank, approaches 10%. There’s a $942 million cut to the Community Development Fund program, which is nearly 1/4 of the total. And two programs in the health care law, Kent Conrad’s co-ops and Ron Wyden’s Free Choice voucher, have been eliminated. The latter is particularly distressing.
Under the new health law, Americans whose income falls below 400 percent of the federal poverty level and whose employer-sponsored health insurance premiums are between 8 and 9.8 percent of their total income will be exempt from having to purchase health coverage but will not be able to access the exchanges or qualify for government assistance to buy insurance.
If an employee’s share of their health insurance premiums rise to 9.9 percent of their total income, they would be allowed to shop for more affordable health insurance in the new health insurance exchanges, with a taxpayer-funded subsidy. But again, at 9.8 percent and below their only options will be to pay for their employer-sponsored coverage or to go without health insurance altogether.
Had Free Choice Vouchers survived, they would have given this group a third option: to take the tax free money that their employer would otherwise contribute to the cost of their health insurance and use it to buy a more affordable health insurance plan at the exchange. This provision would have meant that fewer Americans would have to go without health insurance and by leveraging private dollars versus relying solely on taxpayer funded subsidies, it would have ultimately saved money.
This was a stepping stone to prying open the exchanges and increasing the risk pool there, and decoupling health insurance and the workplace, a truly inefficient system that drives up costs.
I’m not saying that there weren’t some innovative solutions employed to get under the budget number. And even some reasonable moves – they finally canceled the alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, for example. Even the policy “victories” for the right are dubious – Hal Rogers brags about eliminating the “Health Care Czar,” the “Climate Change Czar,” the “Car Czar,” and the “Urban Affairs Czar,” when all four of those positions have already been eliminated.
But you’d have to consider Dan Inouye to be a blithering idiot to suggest that he wouldn’t have cut orphaned earmarks, or funding appropriated to the Census in 2010 that wasn’t needed in 2011. Every year there’s a certain amount of budget cleanup that needs to be done. The difference is that Inouye and Dave Obey would have put that money to use. That would have been part of the 2011 budget process. Which Democrats neglected to even attempt when they had huge majorities, because some Blue Dogs didn’t want to vote for a budget with a big deficit. A lot of good that did them. And a lot of good that did the country – even if the budget were set at what was then thought to be “austere” McCaskill-Sessions levels, it would have been $58 billion higher than what we see now. The economy loses in that trade.
…There’s also the incredibly fiscally responsible provision of keeping the grey wolf off the endangered species list so hunters can shoot them. This will save a resounding $0.00.
UPDATE: I didn’t initially notice this:
Community healthcare centers lose $600 million in funds while HIV and other disease prevention funds are cut by $1 billion.
Community health centers comprised the best spending in the health care law. Their caseload is expected to double over the next four years. And now their funding is getting slowly clawed back. And the HIV and disease prevention funding cut, I barely know what to say. There’s also a cut to FEMA first responders of $786 million.