14 May 2010


Minority whip Eric Cantor (R-Asshole) has introduced an important new gimmick program that allows people to choose which government programs they want to cut. Called YouCut, it's interesting to see what programs he thought might be acceptable to cut.
  • Presidential Election Fund $260 million
  • Taxpayer Subsidized Union Activities $600 million in savings
  • HUD Program for Doctoral Dissertations $1 million in savings
  • New Non-Reformed Welfare Program $2.5 billion in savings
  • Eliminate Wealthier Communities from CDBG $2.6 billion in savings

Now, I'm not an economist. But let's do some calculations.

The total for these programs is about $5.9 billion. The total budget, including "mandatory" expenses like Social Security, the military, and healthcare, is $3.5 trillion. The total discretionary budget is $437 billion. The total deficit is $12.3 trillion.

So these cuts represent:

  • 0.000047 of the deficit, or
  • 0.0016% of the total budget, or
  • 0.013% of the discretionary budget.
That assumes, of course, that these are all reasonable cuts to make and that we should do them, not at all something I'm willing to cede. How about instead of cutting funding for HUD doctoral programs to study our urban housing problem (shucks, why would we want to fund study of important problems?) how about we cut defense spending by... say, 5%? That's a pretty small cut, how much could it take down the problem?

Well, the defense budget is $782 billion. 5% of that is $39 billion... more than seven times the total cuts possible under "YouCut."

But of course, no one will talk about cutting the mandatory programs. Republicans have long espoused "starving the beast," but as Colorado Springs has shown us, that doesn't work.
This tax-averse city is about to learn what it looks and feels like when budget cuts slash services most Americans consider part of the urban fabric.

More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.

The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.

Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.

Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.

City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won't pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need.
When you continually harp about taxes, and conservatives succeed in getting constant tax cuts and campaign against tax increases, then you have to cut services. While government waste does exist (such as when Congress tries to force the Pentagon to buy planes it doesn't want), it's not a bottomless well. The mantra of "tax cuts" and generalized "spending cuts" is popular (no one thinks its their programs that will be canceled), but leadership sometimes means making hard choices. If we don't want a national Colorado Springs on our hands someday, then we need to start seriously thinking about cutting the defense budget, entitlement spending, or raising taxes. We have to do one of those three things.

Watch instead for the Republicans to promise (as Chait has noted) "specific tax cuts and non-specific spending cuts."

EDIT: Oh and in the video, Eric Cantor complains about all the time Congress has spent naming post offices instead of governing. Yeah, that's been the hold-up in the Senate: way too much time spent naming post offices. It would be much more productive to get back to the constant filibusters.


  1. Honestly... I think we need to do all three of those things, not just one. Spending on defense, medicare, and medicaid so dwarfs everything else in the federal budget that any proposal for fiscal sanity which doesn't include dramatic cuts therein cannot be taken seriously.

    The problem with spending is akin to popular opinions of Congress: Just about everyone agrees the federal government should spend less, in the same way that just about everyone has a poor opinion of Congress as a whole. But cutting any specific program is much less popular, just like cutting any specific Congresscritter (not actually cutting them... you know what I mean).

    The populace as a whole likes to vote themselves goodies and tax cuts, regardless of our ever-more-worrisome fiscal insolvency. That's why budgetary discipline will always be unpopular--right up until we lose our solid-gold credit rating. :-/

  2. Alexander Tytler famously said, "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship."


  3. So we should be starting a dictator betting pool, then. The mother of all campaign-trail coverage.