View of Lake Mead from Hoover Dam, 2022. Proposed GOP budget cuts would impede work to conserve the water in Lake Mead, which serves 25 million people. Source: APK.
If that sounds extreme, it’s because we’re used to the abstractions of politics, not governance taken seriously.
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There are a lot of things you could say about the GOP’s proposed plan to reduce the deficit. But if we want to be more expansive than just calling it “batshit crazy” and washing our hands of the whole clown show, as we think Biden can and should, then we could point out that the GOP plan is an expression of profound hostility to the idea of a federal government that serves anyone besides war profiteers.
Their proposal illustrates the party’s commitment to a government that fails Americans in many important ways, because the party’s only strategy to preserve power is to harness people’s anger and fear. How better to make people fear what they have being taken away, than by taking things away from people, and then diverting the blame?
The Republican-proposed cuts to discretionary spending would harm millions of people, invariably causing losses of health, home, life, and opportunity. I’ll dig into the specifics below. A helpful visual representation of the proposed cuts from The New York Times estimates that the GOP plan would cut discretionary spending across the board by an average of 18 percent. But the GOP is also claiming that they would spare defense, veterans’ health and border security from those cuts. If you exclude military spending from cuts, then all the other federal departments and agencies would have their budgets cut by 51 percent. At that point, you might as well throw in the towel, because public services are as good as dead.
Forget about avoiding the worst effects of climate change. Forget about public infrastructure projects. Forget about federal student aid. Forget about clean air and clean water and cleaning up contaminated lands. Forget about space exploration. Forget about loans for farmers. Forget about food and workplace safety inspections. Forget about growing union power. Forget about cracking down on corporations when they jack up prices or steal wages or spill a bunch of toxic chemicals in your town or oil in the sea. The U.S. government would pretty much solely be an insurance company with a massive army, as no doubt the founding fathers intended. Right?
Now, there’s no good reason for Biden to concede to these agents of chaos masquerading as serious people. Several legal scholars have spent considerable amounts of time charting the least-harmful path out of this thicket. Most recently, eminent legal scholar Laurence Tribe joined the chorus calling for the U.S. to ignore the debt ceiling and continue to pay its bills. But while the GOP’s plan deserves no serious consideration, it is worth talking about how budget cuts harm federal departments and agencies, and by extension, the public.
For so many people, the executive branch is basically a black box: its internal mechanisms mysterious, its value unclear. Earlier this spring, 21 federal departments wrote letters laying out explicitly what 22 percent budget cuts would do to their work. (22 percent is the White House Office of Management and Budget’s estimate of the first year of budget cuts under the GOP plans, with the cuts growing deeper each year.) Among other things, these letters make the case for the value of federal agencies to the American people in franker terms than we usually get from the spokespeople of the administrative state.
So, according to the agencies themselves…
The Harms of the GOP Budget Cuts Include:
- The firing of 1,800 food inspectors who conduct mandatory food inspections would cause a shortage of meat, poultry, and eggs available for consumers, and estimated lost production volumes of more than 11.5 billion pounds of meat, 11.1 billion additional pounds of poultry, and over 590 million pounds of eggs, equivalent to a loss of over $89 billion for the industry. It would also cause over $2.2 billion in lost wages for furloughed industry employees.
- Funding cuts would have “dramatic impacts” on western states impacted by drought, including by undermining ongoing programs that support 489 dams and 338 reservoirs delivering water to more than 31 million people and 1 of every 5 western farmers. In just one example, spending cuts would increase the likelihood that the water levels in Lake Mead decline to the point that water allocations from the reservoir are no longer possible, and people could lose power from inadequate amounts of water passing over dams. About 25 million people rely on the water from Lake Mead.
- Funding cuts would cause the lowest level of workplace safety inspections in over fifty years, forcing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to “drastically cut back on responding to worker complaints and proactive inspections,” resulting in more workplace injuries and illnesses without corporate accountability.
- Funding cuts at Health and Human Services would cause, among many other impacts, over a million households to be unable to afford to heat their homes; a million elderly adults to no longer receive meals they depend on; and hundreds of thousands of children to lose critical early childhood care that’s often necessary for their parents to be able to work.
- Reducing funding for fighting wildfires on public lands by nearly 40 percent across the fire programs, and cutting as many as 1,754 of the 4,468 full-time firefighting positions at Interior, would have devastating ecosystem impact and increase the danger to people in high fire-risk areas. An additional 2,200-2,700 wildland firefighters with the Forest Service would also be furloughed.
- Funding cuts would cut off over one million women, infants, and children from a supplemental nutrition program; non-breastfeeding postpartum women, unhoused and migrant individuals, and children would be the first to lose benefits.
- Funding cuts would allow more species to go extinct, as the Fish and Wildlife Service’s implementation of the Endangered Species Act is already significantly underfunded and “does not keep pace with current demand” for species to receive critical protections to avoid extinction.
- An estimated 2 million of the nation’s most vulnerable individuals and families, including poor individuals and individuals in rural areas, would lose access to healthcare centers.
- A funding cut of 22 percent to the Emergency Solutions Grants program would result in over 24,000 fewer houseless people receiving assistance, likely leading to large increases in the number of people sleeping on the streets.
- Reduced farm loan funding could cause the loss of up to 26,250 private sector jobs in farming, reduce the GDP by more than $1.6 billion, and reduce household income by more than $1.3 billion.
- About $156 million in back wages for 135,000 private sector workers would not be recovered because the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division would have to reduce its compliance actions, investigations, and targeted inspections.
- Alaskan Natives whose lands are contaminated by arsenic, asbestos, lead, mercury, pesticides, and various petroleum products would lose a significant new program intended to clean up this contamination.
- Funding cuts to a rental assistance program that serves approximately 1.3 million families would represent a “historically unprecedented loss of existing affordable housing, a breach of federal contracts, and a repudiation of decades of long-term bipartisan federal investment.” Cuts would likely lead to tens of thousands of evictions.
- Funding cuts to the Education Department would impact an estimated 25 million children by cutting more than 60,000 teachers and aids from classrooms serving low income students. It would also decrease aid to all 6.6 million Pell Grant recipients and eliminate Pell Grants for 85,000 students, eliminate FWS financial support for approximately 11,000 students, and eliminate Work-Study financial support for approximately 85,000 students, among other impacts.
And all of this doesn’t even include the damage that the GOP is intending to do to the U.S.’s only piece of climate legislation.
Among the many things you could say about the GOP’s proposed plan to reduce the deficit, then, you could say that it is senselessly cruel, wildly irresponsible, and embarrassingly uninformed.
You could say that it targets the most vulnerable Americans, whether that means vulnerability to wildfires and drought and rising seas, or vulnerability to food and housing insecurity, or to environmental hazards or pollutants, or systemic barriers to education and workplace access, or to wage theft or unsafe working conditions.
You could even say that any child in our underfunded public school system could do better, fairer, and more discerning math. And unlike our political media, children would probably be more likely to cover this calamity as a serious story with real world impact, rather than assessing it primarily within the context of Biden’s re-election campaign, Kevin McCarthy’s efforts to maintain Speaker, and the stock market.