Ellen Ratner is the White House correspondent and bureau chief for the Talk Radio News service. She is also Washington bureau chief and political editor for Talkers Magazine. In addition, Ratner is a news analyst at the Fox News Channel.More ↓Less ↑
The conservative members of the House Republicans known as “The Republican Study Committee” have released their plans for the new budget. There is not much chance that they will get what they want, but it shows the mindset of their newly elected leadership. It shows what they consider a priority and what they don’t. It scares me and should scare you, even if you are a diehard Republican.
The math of their cuts goes something like this: The federal budget is divided into discretionary spending and nondiscretionary spending. Discretionary spending is costs that are not fixed and can change. Nondiscretionary spending includes commitments to Social Security and interest on debt. Roughly, the discretionary spending is about $1.3 trillion. If the president’s budget request for this year is met and defense spending is $895 billion, then the amount left for the entire government operations is about $500 billion. If the defense spending stays at last year’s dollars, then the amount left to fund the entire government would total approximately $550 billion.
The Republicans want to cut about $250 billion from the discretionary budget annually. That means somewhere around $250-$300 billion to run the entire government. It is a proposal of between 40 and 50 percent of the discretionary budget depending on how it is calculated.
What do these cuts mean? The Republicans listed some of the cuts that they propose, and it does not include a hard look at defense spending. Instead they propose hard cuts to the kind of things that help grow America. The Conservative Republican Study Committee decided to propose ending the Amtrak subsidy and eliminating the money for the high-speed rail. This is about as shortsighted as you can get. Anyone with a memory of that tragic day, Sept. 11, 2001, knows how important a healthy rail system is to our country. To make matters worse, China, our biggest international competitor, is spending billions for high-speed rail. It understands that commerce depends on moving people reliably and quickly. High-speed rail is essentially President Eisenhower’s vision for interstate highways that took place in the 1950s adapted to the 21st century. No one thought Eisenhower was crazy, and we have all profited from his 1950s vision.
The conservative Republicans propose cutting most of the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID is the main provider of foreign aid from the United States. When I ask Americans what percentage of our budget the U.S. spends of foreign aid, I get answers such as 10 percent up to 30 percent. The actual figure is about one percent with 70 percent of that coming back to the United States for purchases such as grain and other products. That is not a big hit to our budget.
What these Conservative Republicans fail to realize is that the Chinese are gaining a foothold in many countries while the United States spends more money on its military. During the last few months, I have witnessed “hearts and minds” projects in both Southern Sudan and the Caribbean nation of Grenada. Is it given by the United States? No, it’s donated by the People’s Republic of China. It simply makes not an ounce of sense to spend more than $600 billion for military and almost zero on foreign aid, which costs us less than $2 billion. This zeroing-out would take place while China is getting a foothold in most of underdeveloped countries around the world. Politically and strategically, it is a dumb move.
Most people don’t remember that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was once on the board of the Legal Services Corporation. She cut her teeth on public administration early on by making sure that people of little means got access to the courts for noncriminal matters. A time-honored part of our court/legal system, Legal Services Corporation is where a citizen can get represented in matters such as lousy loans and lousy landlords. The proposed cuts will all but eliminate Legal Services Corporation. This action helps make sure that landlords, credit-card companies and other service providers can soak the poor unfettered. It’s just another tip of the hat to those in power, courtesy of your conservative friends in the GOP.
The House leadership made immediate cuts to the staffing patterns of all House members and leadership. But a close look at the numbers shows that they are nowhere near the 40-50 percent they are aiming to cut the other parts of the federal budget. I would like to see conservative members of the House of Representatives cut their staff/office budget by 40-50 percent. There is no chance of that happening. Until the Republican Study Committee takes the lead by doing what they say they want others in the government to do, no one should take them seriously.