How Serious Are the
GOP Budget Cuts?

January 20th, 2011 at 3:59 pm | 30 Comments |

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The Republican Study Committee has released its guide to exactly what government programs the GOP wants to cut. David Weigel reports that a lot of the cuts are targeted at transportation and rail budgets:

The proposal does what Republicans have been talking about for two years — “repeal” of remaining stimulus funds (now $45 billion), privatizing Fannie and Freddie ($30 billion), repealing Medicaid’ FMAP increase ($16.1 billion), and what they estimate at $330 billion in discretionary spending cuts. Highlights of these projected annual savings:

- Cutting the federal workforce by 15 percent through attrition, and do this by allowing only one new federal worker for every two who quit.

- Killing the “fund for Obamacare administrative costs” for $900 million

- Ending Amtrak subsidies for $1.565 billion

- Ending intercity and high speed rail grants for $2.5 billion

- Repealing Davis-Bacon for $1 billion

- Cutting annual general assistance to the District of Columbia by $210 million, and cutting the subsidy for DC’s transit authority by $150 million.


Reforms that go after their own perks:

- Cutting the Federal Travel Budget in half, for $7.5 billion

- Cutting the Federal Vehicle Budget by 1/5, for $600 million

- Halve funding for congressional printing – $47 million annual savings

- Ending the death gratuity for members of Congress

FrumForum asked some of its contributors to weigh in on this: how serious and necessary are the proposed Republican cuts?

Eli Lehrer, Vice President of Washington D.C. operations for the Heartland Institute:

I’m a railfan. I love train rides almost as much as my three year old son does. When I visit a new city, I try to ride whatever train system it has. If the Republican proposed mass transit cuts happen, I’ll be sad at some level. As the D.C. area–home to both the most subsidized mass transit system and the second busiest Amtrak station–will probably see the deepest per capita cuts, its overwhelmingly likely that my local taxes will rise if the proposed budget reductions become law. All that said, I still think the cuts are a necessary part of getting the country into decent financial shape. Let’s take the three major cuts–D.C.’s metrorail system, capital improvements for local mass transit (“New Starts”) for mass transit systems around the country, and subsidies for Amtrak and intercity rail–in order:

Washington, like every other city with a major transit system, needs a dedicated, regional funding mechanism for mass transit. Because of federal subsidies, it has avoided creating one and instead sucked at the federal teat. This isn’t very fair to the rest of the country. Eliminating the federal subsidy won’t really cut the size of government overall (taxes will go up) but at least it will mean that people who use the D.C. metro will pay for it.

The New Starts program can also be scrapped. The 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s saw billions of federal and local dollars go to build at least the beginnings of a light or heavy rail system in every major city that didn’t already have one. Today, only two large American cities–Columbus, Ohio and San Antonio, Texas–lack any sort of rail transit system. Whatever the merits of doing these subsidies–and they’re very debatable–the federal government has helped seed mass transit just about everywhere. If localities want to expand these systems, they should do so with their own money: local mass transit systems can do a lot of good but they should be paid for locally.

Support for intercity trains is a more complicated matter. Since such travel does cross state lines and facilitates interstate commerce, it’s not, on its face, an inherently bad idea for the federal government to run it. But Amtrak is awful at running trains and wastes billions of dollars. The most important two train routes–the Northeast corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C. and the route between Los Angeles and San Diego’s downtowns–both come pretty close to breaking even on operations already and, with the right management from the private sector or truly competent public agencies, could probably pay their own operating costs. (Local governments or the feds would still have to pitch in for capital expenses somehow; getting rid of these routes isn’t a good idea.) Most other Amtrak routes, including all long haul routes, are simply uneconomical and unnecessary: they’re slow, pricey (even with big subsidies) and produce little economic spin off effect. Getting rid of them would be a good savings of taxpayer money. A national high speed rail network does look pretty appealing but, frankly, in a rather difficult fiscal situation, there isn’t much point in building a multi-billion network that, mostly would just give people another way to make trips they would undertake anyway.

I like rail transit. I wish the United States had more and better trains. But the proposed rail transit cuts are a necessary part of getting the country into decent fiscal shape.

Steve Bell, Visiting Scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center:

First, Republican candidates for office last November pledged $100 billion cuts off currently projected spending for this fiscal year, FY2011.

Cooler heads, and objective reality, prevailed and the GOP scaled back to a $50m billion cut.

That step backwards was challenged vigorously by pledges of even larger cuts by various GOP House members–Michele Bachmann’s $450 billion; the House Republican Policy Committee’s $2.5 trillion reduction recommendations;  the declaration by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers’ that his committee will find “the largest series of spending cuts in the history of Congress;” and other statements equally as bold.

Note my use of the word “statements.”  As political statements, the verbiage passes the rhetorical test.  As policy recommendations, the ideas fail the reality test.

Most interesting, the most detailed real policy initiative remains that of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.  Almost none of his colleagues have supported Ryan just because, in large part, it is specific and meets the debt/fiscal reality test.

Republicans risk over-promising and drastically under-achieving.  Simple arithmetic condemns most of the $100 billion and “back to FY08″ ideas.

Without wanting to be a curmudgeon on the subject, I still fall back on simple numbers.

The United States will spend approximately $450 billion on “non-security” discretionary spending programs in the fiscal we now occupy–FY11.  We are about 4 months into the fiscal year.  In the 8 months remaining, then, a linear approach gives us about $300 billion remaining to be spent from already appropriated funds for these discretionary domestic programs.

Thus, the pledge to find $100 billion in cuts, or to return to FY08 levels, means a reduction of one-third of all remaining spending in the targeted programs.

To find $100 billion in outlays (after all, it is outlays compared to revenues that gives us deficits), I estimate that one would have to really cut about 50 per cent of all remaining monies.  This begins to be technical, so you have to trust me here–most members of the House and Senate have no idea that outlays (spending) by agencies in any given fiscal year varies dramatically from new appropriations annually. That is a problem of immense proportions.

When I tried to explain this to my friend–a graduate of Brown University with his Ph.D. from Cambridge–he asked me to stop after about 10 minutes.  It made his head hurt and it made no sense.

Bottom line–if you want to cut $100 billion from spending in FY11, you will have to start with immediate furloughs of hundreds of thousands of government workers, stop paying the government’s share of the TSP savings programs, close down most government funded operations, and stop most of the research grants the U.S. funds.

It can be done.  But if it is done, President Obama and the Democratic Party will have been given one of the great electoral gifts of all time.

Just imagine the head of a local hospital, funded in part by federal monies, who headed up the finance team for one of the new House Republicans, calling that Member and saying, “Holy Cow, do you know that you have just closed down part of the cancer wing here.”

All of this rhetoric, perfectly unnecessary if the GOP would endorse the Ryan Plan or a sub-set of it and move ahead with it.

But, that, too presents political dangers.

Welcome of Washington, fellas.

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30 Comments so far ↓

  • Watusie

    Looks like a blatant attack on the northeast. What a surprise.

    Be that as it may, until defense spending is put on the table, nothing they say can be taken seriously. Every household in America sends $260 dollars a year to Lockheed Martin.

    Enough already.

  • Non-Contributor

    Again, cutting anything is a waste of time and will only drag the economy down.

    Unemployment is the enemy, fix that first.

    But if your main priority FOR YOUR PARTY is to make government smaller then screw whats good for the country and do what you want. Which is the mantra of the GOP, Party first – America second.

  • forgetn

    My suspicion is that the Republicans are absolutely serious about the budget cuts… not! What the Tea party has mandated its new GOP representative is one of the most difficult thing to do, I doubt that in the age of 24 hours news that any republican will stand by the cuts for more than 10 minutes. The American system is poorly constructed for difficult decisions, elections every two years means that those who would have the courage of taking difficult decision don’t last.

    With 77% of all government spending in Medicare, defense and social security, and an agreement by the Republicans that these are sacred cow programs, the rest is very difficult to cut, does America shut down the CDC, how about all cancer research? Seriously, these are the discretionary programs. BY the way cutting $50 billion is a start, but lets not forget that the US government has a trillion dollar deficit — that means that $50 billion is a 5% cut in the deficit — not really a pledge to to any substantive change to the overall picture.

    At any rate, we shall see if the Republicans are serious over the next few weeks.

  • Non-Contributor

    I know the topic is about cutting the budget but this is rather interesting on how to eliminate the need to raise the debt ceiling. And since there is no where else to post this…

    http://www.correntewire.com/president_obama_should_use_coin_seigniorage_now

  • TerryF98

    So zero cuts to the “defense” budget but drastic cuts to the veterans. Does not make sense unless like Bush you have zero interest in the veterans. So Walter reed will go back to the deplorable state it was in under Bush and the veterans will suffer because their health care is diminished.

    Great way to show your support of the troops GOP. I guess when the troops are injured and no longer any use combat wise they can just be cast aside!

  • talkradiosucks.com

    Want to know what this is? It’s “krop”. The opposite of “pork”.

    Where pork means getting Congress to support a pet project you think is important when your opponents don’t like it, krop is the opposite: you show how “tough” you are on the fiscal side by targetting for elimination your opponents’ favorite projects and policies, or ones that your base hates.

    More political theater, and the real problem goes completely unaddressed. But then, who with an IQ above room temperature ever actually thought the Republicans were serious about dealing with the debt?

    Edit: Sorry about what seems like a dupe below, whenever I link to FF this site generates little excerpts…

  • Krop | Talk Radio Sucks

    [...] “krop”? It’s “pork” spelled backwards. It came to mind reading this article on the GOP’s alleged “budget [...]

  • thatguy

    Thats right, just keep building those roads. They don’t need to make a profit, but rail and transit systems must.

  • COProgressive

    thatguy wrote;
    “Thats right, just keep building those roads.”

    Well, that both good and bad. Good in that it keeps people working here and they are jobs that can’t be done overseas. Bad in that encourages more auto use, and more importantly, more fuel use.

    But until the Republicans put the $700 Billion dollar Military budget on the chopping block, all else that they talk about is meaningless. Until we get our troops out of Afghanistan, costing $2.8 Billion dollars A WEEK, $145.6 Billion A YEAR to play a deadly game of “Whack-A-Mole”, all other reductions are meaningless.

    Are we going to cut cancer research, startup funding for green energy development for the future and aid to educate our kids just to kill a few more people in a country stuck in the 17th century?

    We spend $700 Billion a year for war toys to kill people halfway around the world but we can’t spend $100 Billion a year for a Universal Single Payer Healthcare System for ALL Americans here at home. Just bleep’ing unbelieveable.

    “Don’t tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I’ll tell you what they are.” – James W. Frick

  • Saladdin

    Interesting coincidence that the GOP does this almost 50 years to the day that Eisenhower gave his famous farewell address excoriating the military industrial complex. Exit question: Where have all of the Eisenhower Republicans gone?

  • Elvis Elvisberg

    Exit question: Where have all of the Eisenhower Republicans gone?

    They’re far, far to the left of the Democratic Party. That is, they don’t exist.

    Well, there’s Andrew Bacevich. And… yeah, that’s about it.

  • beemerron

    If we cut mass transit funding, what about highway and marine shipping (dredging and ice breaking), as well?

  • dante

    If the GOP was serious about balancing the budget, they wouldn’t have pushed through tax cuts. They’re just using it as an excuse to cut what they wanted to anyway…

  • politicalfan

    Sounds like they want to rewind and replace?

  • LauraNo

    How serious? Judging by some of the things on that list that we all know will never happen, I’d say, “not very”.

  • valkayec

    David Weigel left out a great many other items the GOP wants to cut. This morning’s WaPo story included a vast number of other budget cuts from PBS to WIC. All budget items that assist lower income Americans. And since the nation still has a nearly 10% unemployment rate which is not likely to go down to normal employment rates for another 5 years, those cuts will affect a vast number of American citizens.

    But hey, as a GOP ex-Representative and lobbyist stated, poor people don’t vote for us, so who cares about them.

    Personally as someone who was laid off from her job as a result of the real estate crash and financial meltdown, and who decided after nearly two years of fruitless, constant job search applied for Social Security, I obviously don’t count. I’m no longer one of those “successful” people Boehner cares about. Never mind that between 2000 and 2009, I lost nearly 2/3′s of my retirement 401k and IRA savings – money I had scrimped and saved so I’d not have to depend on Social Security. Now I wonder if I’ll have enough money to live on for the rest of my life expectancy.

    As such, I don’t mind making a few sacrifices to balance the books, but before I’m asked to sacrifice, I demand that profitable companies and industry sectors bit the bullet first. Eliminate the ~$550 Billion in tax expenditures, credits, and exclusions to highly profitable companies and industries; reduce the DOD budget by $100 billion that Secty Gates said was emanately doable and recommended; close down the hundreds of superfluous Cold War bases and posts worldwide; and get completely out of Iraq and begin phasing out of Afghanistan; and allow Medicare to use its vast purchasing power to negotiate drug prices as any private sector business would. Until these extraneous expenditures are ended, don’t ask me to tighten my belt any more. It’s already too tight. Moreover, the country needs this lost income to expand its R&D, infrastructure, and education.

    The GOP plan is nothing more than a sop to big business at the expense of the working class.

  • rockstar

    @ thatguy

    If there were ever a time in my lifetime when a new ccc were needed, this might be it.

    Just don’t give the contracts to union labor until they can produce Jimmy Hoffa’s body.

  • kevin47

    @Non-Contributor

    “Again, cutting anything is a waste of time and will only drag the economy down.”

    I disagree. Let the battle of assertions begin.

    “Unemployment is the enemy, fix that first.”

    The conservative position is that reducing the size of government ameliorates job growth. You may contest that position, but you cannot pretend it does not exist.

    “But if your main priority FOR YOUR PARTY is to make government smaller then screw whats good for the country and do what you want. Which is the mantra of the GOP, Party first – America second.”

    It’s actually bad for the party when they work to shrink government. That’s where Democrats get the upper-hand. Conversely, the Republicans get the upper hand when it comes to cutting spending and taxes. What’s best for both parties is to increase spending while continuing to promise cuts. That doesn’t get us anywhere.

    @forgetn

    “My suspicion is that the Republicans are absolutely serious about the budget cuts… not!”

    Party on Wayne.

    “What the Tea party has mandated its new GOP representative is one of the most difficult thing to do, I doubt that in the age of 24 hours news that any republican will stand by the cuts for more than 10 minutes.”

    More likely they will endeavor to roll back increases.

    “The American system is poorly constructed for difficult decisions, elections every two years means that those who would have the courage of taking difficult decision don’t last.”

    The way states award electoral votes has more to do with this, I think. That system is flawed.

    “BY the way cutting $50 billion is a start, but lets not forget that the US government has a trillion dollar deficit — that means that $50 billion is a 5% cut in the deficit — not really a pledge to to any substantive change to the overall picture.”

    You could eliminate the DOE, make a 20% cut in miscellaneous “mandatory programs”, eliminate NASA (since we’re not going into space anyway), and have the budget of HHS. That, along with minor trimmings here and there, would get you to $200 billion in cuts.

    “At any rate, we shall see if the Republicans are serious over the next few weeks.”

    True

  • kevin47

    “but we can’t spend $100 Billion a year for a Universal Single Payer Healthcare System for ALL Americans here at home”

    I’d say that’s a made up number, but I’m sure it resides in some talking point doc somewhere. Who, then, is pretending we can have a single payer health care system for $300 per person?

  • rockstar

    @ Watusie

    H*** yeah, and I hope they draw and quarter the Northeast.

  • jorae

    Tax cuts?

    How about tax loop holes to fix this first?

    The simple plan has been to allow loop holes – then scream there is not enough money…

    Government exists for the citizens…taxes pay for these benefits that all citizens enjoy…Clean water, Food safety, Parks, Homeland Security.

    Name one government division that is not for all the citizen..

    Then name the division that has to exist to brings in the money to buy these benefits …benefits that are designed for YOU.

    The game plan under the Republican think tanks are….let the loop holes go …it will help bring in money for your re-election…

    Then cry…”There is no money for Government benefits”…

    The Republicans will only bring up government department that their sponsors have asked them to deregulating….Which is every Corporation known.

    Never, never mention the loop holes that are causing the lack of funds…

    It seems like a perfect plan…unless YOU start to see the game plan, and how the whole thing works…We will be just fine, if we look at the loss of funds..and which Party allows that to happen.

  • talkradiosucks.com

    “H*** yeah, and I hope they draw and quarter the Northeast.”

    I’ll keep this line in mind next time I read a complaint about Democrats being the “party of class warfare”. :P

  • jorae

    Is “talkradiostucks.com” referring to this thread?

    “Watusie // Jan 20, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Looks like a blatant attack on the northeast. What a surprise.

    Be that as it may, until defense spending is put on the table, nothing they say can be taken seriously. Every household in America sends $260 dollars a year to Lockheed Martin.

    Enough already.”

    ——————–
    What does talkraidosucks.com mean?

  • forgetn

    Kevin47

    Thanks for the highlights

    My point is that the GOP has already told everyone that 77% of the Federal government’s budget is “untouchable” sure cutting NASA and other “fun” things would lead to savings, but the deficit is $1 trillion each and every year, NASA’s budget is “only” $17 billion per year. Furthermore, a large percentage of the federal government’s 23% discretionary budget are not so much cash outlays than tax breaks… I can hear the squealing for those tax break recipients already (BTW mostly they are corporations). One of the biggest tax break is to the energy industry… I suspect that Exxon and friends have a relatively large lobby effort to make sure that those tax break don’t disappear…

    That’s the challenge for the Republicans. So far all I have heard are proposal to gut small amounts from groups for which the GOP has no interest (fine that’s easy), but and this is the big one, if you are going to reduce the deficit in a meaningful way (and not just be a vengeful little bitch against those you believe have wronged you) the GOP will have to cut stuff that is at the heart of their constituency.

    Cutting PBS’s $80 million dollar grant is vengeful and although should be examined is not a multi billion dollar target.

  • Non-Contributor

    “The conservative position is that reducing the size of government ameliorates job growth. You may contest that position, but you cannot pretend it does not exist. ”

    Prove the logic that reducing the size of government reduces unemployment. It’s like people forget what facts look like. Sure that be the “conservative” position but it isn’t true. The truth is that conservatives have some sort of paranoid delusion that the government is trying to turn America into a state run socialist country. Or maybe its just rhetoric to get people to vote for them and they really don’t care what comes out of their mouths as long as they retain power. Either way it doesn’t do squat.

  • LauraNo

    “The conservative position is that reducing the size of government ameliorates job growth. You may contest that position, but you cannot pretend it does not exist. ”

    They have said that for eons now and yet they haven’t got a lick of proof, still. Same with that supply-side fairy-tale they love to repeat. Those canards are used to cover up the real motive of conservatives. Anyone who can read would know by now these things do not accomplish the stated goal and become suspicious, unless they are on board with the real goal.

  • unkownone

    “When I visit a new city, I try to ride whatever train system it has….but at least it will mean that people who use the D.C. metro will pay for it.” Eli Lehrer

    I hope you see the contradiction. Public transportation systems are not just for the local benefit. They are for everyone who visits. A coordinated national/regional rail system and bus system makes sense for the federal government in the same way the interstate highway system needed to be paid for by the federal government. Leaving this entirely to Mayors, City Councils, County Executives or State Government is shortsighted and has negative consequences.

    Even Michelle Bachman understood that transportation earmarks are worthwhile federal expenditures.

  • Saladdin

    Wasn’t it Ike that funded the federal highway system? No the RSC’s proposals aren’t serious. Let’s randomly cut $2.5B from the budget without touching defense or entitlements. Also, tax cuts will add to the deficit, so much for fiscal responsibility.

    Politically, TP’ers may love it, but no way this passes… which is why GOP members aren’t explicitly endorsing this plan (kinda like Ryan’s budget), great in theory, awful in practice. You really want to underfund spending on veterans, homeland security, food safety, federal law enforcement? No of course not. Also, in re to deficit, increasing medicare advantage?

    OMG, this is a fantasy world, good thing no one’s taking this seriously, especially the party leaders (Boehner, Cantor, McConnell are all notoriously silent on this proposal.). Face it, it’s never gonna happen, even if Romney becomes Pres in 12 and has both houses of Congress. Remember, the most important thing with politicians is one thing: to be re-elected.

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