A mini-revolt is brewing among Republican backbenchers on Capitol Hill now that the specific spending cuts in Friday’s budget deal are being revealed. After separating out the accounting gimmicks and one-year savings, the actual cuts look to be closer to $20 billion than to the $38 billion that both sides advertised. This is not going to help Speaker John Boehner’s credibility with the tea party.
Even $20 billion is worthwhile, and the genuine reductions include cuts in high-speed rail, Pell grants, highway projects, renewable energy programs, housing subsidies, low-income home energy assistance, agriculture programs, contributions to the United Nations, and many more. There is also an immediate across the board 0.2% reduction in all nondefense accounts.
But the continuing resolution also saves money on paper through phantom cuts. The whopper is declaring $6.2 billion in savings by not spending money left from the 2010 Census. Congress also cuts $4.9 billion from the Justice Department’s Crime Victims Fund, but much of that money was tucked away in a reserve fund that wouldn’t have been spent this year in any event.
The budgeteers claim $630 million in cuts from what are called “orphan earmarks,” or construction that never started, and $2 billion more for transportation projects, some of which were likely to be canceled. The Associated Press reports that $350 million in savings comes from a 2009 program to pay dairy farmers to compensate for low milk prices. Milk prices are high this year, so some of that money also would never have been spent.
An estimated $17 billion comes from one-time savings in mandatory programs. The cuts are real, but the funding gets restored by law the next year, which means Republicans will have to refight the same battles. States lose some $3.5 billion in bonus money to enroll more kids in the Children’s Health Insurance Program, but many states failed to qualify for that extra funding. These cuts don’t reduce the spending baseline, so there are no compound savings over time.
None of this is enough to defeat the budget at this point, but it is infuriating given the GOP leadership’s flogging of that $38 billion top-line figure. On Sunday we heard the leadership might lose 30 backbenchers on the budget vote, but yesterday we were hearing it may be closer to 50 or 60. This will only heighten skepticism over the next budget showdown, and Mr. Boehner will have to drive a harder bargain. Above all, the hokum belies the House GOP’s promise to usher in a new era of lawmaking candor and transparency.
San Diego Tea Party