Allegedly “Meaningless” 2011 Budget Cuts Cost 370,000 Jobs

Way back in April, Congress agreed, after nearly causing a government shutdown, on a budget deal that cut $39 billion over the next six months. There were a lot of articles written in the aftermath about how the outlays actually increased and how Obama fleeced Boehner and how the whole thing got accomplished with no harm.

Well, the Center for American Progress, making a different point and trying to pin the bad economy on House Republicans, ran the numbers on the 2011 budget cuts. It turns out they cost the country 370,000 jobs.

Here’s the report, from CAP’s Scott Lilly.

To get a clear picture of the efforts by the current Congress to eliminate jobs requires only a visit to the House Appropriations Committee official web site and an examination of a table entitled “FY 2011 CONTINUING RESOLUTION REDUCTIONS.” The table lists a little more than 250 programs that the commit-tee claims to have cut by a total of $45 billion in fiscal year 2011, which ended in October. Not all of the claimed cuts actually reduced either spending or jobs; they claim, for example, to have cut $6 billion from the Decennial Census despite the fact that virtually no one expected a Decennial Census in 2011. But there are significant job losses associated with most of the document. While many discussions of potential job losses from reductions in government spending seem abstract and theoretical, these cuts are clearly resulting in real pink slips being delivered to real people.

Similar stories could be told about many other budget cuts made in this bill—cuts that resulted in further job losses—but that would require many more pages and exhaust the patience of most readers. All of the various 250 program reductions in the FY 2011 continuing resolution probably eliminated more 370,000 jobs. The three areas selected for discussion in this paper are in my judgment neither the worst cuts made by the committee from a policy standpoint nor the best. But without a doubt they demonstrate the consequences of slashing government spending in a weak economy.

I don’t have much reason to doubt Lilly on his statistical sampling. Regardless of those crowing about Obama’s poker-playing, you cannot help but have real cuts affect real people. Austerity does this, no matter where you are.

Lilly shows in the report that $2.5 billion in local law enforcement and first responder cuts cost 36,000 jobs nationwide, postponing environmental cleanup of nuclear weapons sites cost over 6,800 direct and indirect jobs, and cutting back on the real estate portfolio of the General Services Administration cost tens of thousands more jobs.

So now, having failed at the poker-playing narrative, I’m sure some will come back with, “Yes, jobs were lost, blame John Boehner!” Except it’s not that simple. The 2011 budget could have and should have been put to bed by the previous Congress, which was heavily Democratic. Blue Dogs requested that no action get taken on the budget because they didn’t want to take a stand and risk their jobs (how’d that turn out for them?). Even at the late date of the lame duck session, there was a chance to finish off appropriations, and as we know, Democrats had something that Republicans wanted – the expiring Bush tax cuts. Passing an omnibus budget even at a frozen level would have been preferable to near-term spending cuts.

And now we know that those near-term cuts, contrary to popular belief, did cost the country a significant chunk of jobs. I’d like to have told those 370,000 unemployed workers that everything possible was done for them.

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