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Reality Slowly Dawns on House Republicans

Embracing the President’s Cuts and Avoiding a Shutdown Is the Right Path

SOURCE: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Up until last week, it looked like the Tea Party caucus would exert its power once again and demand that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) shut down the government, but cooler heads may prevail today after the House leadership on Friday offered a two-week reprieve so that more negotiations could ensue.

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Later today House Republicans will hopefully take another half-step forward in their continuing budget dance that we at the Center for American Progress call the Tango con Realidad. Out on the campaign trail, it is easy for conservatives to call for “cutting spending” and “shrinking government.” But the stark reality is that getting our nation’s federal budget deficit under control is actually going to require more than simply hacking away blindly at fundamental public services.

House Republicans aren’t there yet—they still think the federal government can simply cut its way to a balanced budget—but the complicated reality of what needs to be done to bring the federal deficit down to sustainable levels over the coming decade is slowly, very slowly, excruciatingly slowly, dawning on them. The most recent evidence of this dawning comes today in a vote on a relatively sensible two-week “continuing resolution” that would keep the government running until March 18, rather than have the current budget stand-off lead to a shutdown on March 4, when the current resolution funding the government runs out.

Democrats have been asking for just such a short-term extension to give the House and Senate more time to negotiate a final budget deal for fiscal year 2011, which runs until the end of September this year. Up until last week, it looked like the Tea Party caucus would exert its power once again and demand that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) shut down the government unless Democrats acceded to their egregious demands for sweeping and ill-advised cuts that could well lead to a double-dip recession and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. But cooler heads may prevail today after the House leadership on Friday offered a two-week reprieve so that more negotiations could ensue.

The two-week resolution before the House does include $4 billion in cuts, which is a rather large amount for such a short time frame. Fortunately, those cuts largely follow the advice of President Barack Obama, including the termination of no less than eight separate programs, all of which he already recommended for elimination, as well as reductions from funds that traditionally were used to dole out earmarks, another area where the president wants cuts. Most importantly, the short-term resolution does not include the hundreds of cuts to the wide variety of crucial services and programs that the House Republicans had been insisting on up until Friday.

The House Republicans’ full package totals more than $60 billion in cuts for this fiscal year that would choke off the economic recovery, undermine future economic growth, devastate public services aimed primarily at children, and weaken efforts to keep ordinary Americans safe as they go about their everyday lives. Two independent economic analyses released this past week detail just how bad it would be for the economy widely and for the job market in particular if we were to implement the full package of cuts. Economists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. estimated that doing so would slash economic growth by as much as 2 percentage points this year. The chief economist at Moody’s warned that such cuts would lead to a loss of 700,000 jobs by the end of next year. And just today, more than 320 economists from around the country joined together to urge Congress not to slash federal investments, or else risk serious economic damage.

But House Republicans’ full plan wouldn’t just knock the legs out from under the recovery. As my colleagues Adam Hersh and Sarah Ayres explain, it would also mean a dramatically reduced investment in our future economic growth as well. Their plan includes cuts to infrastructure funding for highways, railroads, and airports, to science and technology research and development, to job training and higher education, and to federal efforts to promote trade and innovation—all investments that lay the foundation for future prosperity.

As damaging as fewer jobs now and slower growth in the future will be for all Americans, the budget cuts passed by the House Republicans also seem to especially have it out for children. Their plan includes a whole host of specific cuts that will have a disproportionate impact on the young and their families. These include:

  • $100 million from after-school programs
  • $1 billion from Head Start
  • More than $1.7 billion from children’s health and nutrition programs including massive cuts to community health centers, and the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children
  • Elimination of poison control centers
  • Massive cuts to K-12 education funding—nearly $5 billion, including $700 million from grants to local school districts, $500 million from teacher quality grants, and $340 million from school improvement grants
  • Elimination of Teach For America and YouthBuild

Altogether, millions of children would be kicked out of their pre-K classrooms or their afterschool programs. Hundreds of thousands of kids would lose critical nutrition assistance or be turned away from a local health clinic. And school districts around the country will have to cut back.

Finally, not content with the economic damage or the assault on children’s services, the House budget plan would also roll back some fundamental measures designed to protect everyone’s safety as we go about our daily lives. They would cut:

  • Food and drug safety—$240 million from the Food and Drug Administration and $88 million from food safety and inspection services
  • Product safety—$3 million from Consumer Product Safety Administration
  • Law enforcement—$1.4 billion from law enforcement activities, including more than $1 billion from grants to local and state police departments and nearly $200 million from the juvenile justice system
  • Workplace safety—nearly $100 million from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  • Transportation safety—cuts to the Railroad Safety Technology Program, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Transportation Security Administration
  • Homeland security—$30 million from Domestic Nuclear Detection office, and nearly $1 billion from funding to assist localities in the event of a disaster
  • Disease control and health research—more than $850 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and $1.6 billion from the National Institutes of Health

Given the obviously draconian, counterproductive, and just plain dangerous nature of these cuts, it is unsurprising that the Senate and the president refuse to go along with the House Republican plan. The president offered a list of much more targeted and far less damaging cuts in his recent budget request. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) repeatedly insists that “Democrats believe we should make smart cuts—cuts that target waste and excess,” and pressed Republicans to, “work with Democrats on a responsible path forward that cuts spending without sacrificing more than a million jobs.”

It is heartening to see the House leadership adopt the president’s cuts and come around to the view that taking a little more time is a good thing. We can hope that in the next two weeks (assuming the Tea Party caucus doesn’t derail this deal today) the House Republicans will dance a few more steps toward reality—acknowledging that slashing and burning just leaves a smoldering wreck. Deficit reduction will come from smart, thoughtful cuts, targeted new investments to ensure stronger and sustainable economic growth, and, yes, more revenues from those who benefited the most from the tax cuts of the past decade.

Michael Linden is Associate Director for Tax and Budget Policy at the Center for American Progress. To read more of the Center’s analysis and policy recommendations go to the Economy page on our website.

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