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Obama's Budget Knife Yields Modest Trims

Yesterday, an administration official said that, though Obama considers early childhood education a priority, "The evidence is unfortunately clear that this specific early childhood program does not work very well."

The officials previewed four other programs marked for termination on the grounds that they are not needed or are not effective. Obama officials have previously identified three of them as being out of favor: a $35 million-a-year long-range radio navigation system that officials said has been made obsolete by Global Positioning System devices; a Department of Education attache based in Paris that costs $632,000 per year; and a $142 million program that officials said continues to pay states to clean up abandoned mines even though that task has been completed.

In addition, the White House is proposing to cancel the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation, an independent federal agency established to "encourage and support research, study and labor designed to produce new discoveries in all fields of endeavor for the benefit of mankind," according to its Web site. The program costs $1 million a year, and officials said 80 percent goes to administrative overhead.

The proposed cuts, if adopted by Congress, would not actually reduce government spending. Obama's budget would increase overall spending; any savings from the program terminations and reductions would be shifted to the president's priorities.

But the more likely outcome, budget analysts said, is that few to none of the programs targeted by Obama will be terminated. Presidents from both parties have routinely rolled out long lists of spending cuts -- and lawmakers from both parties routinely ignore them.

"You can go through the budget line by line, but there's no line that says 'waste, fraud and abuse,'" said Robert Bixby, executive director of the nonprofit Concord Coalition, which promotes deficit reduction. "What some people think is waste, other people think is a vital government service."

The administration officials said they think their cuts will be taken more seriously by lawmakers because the economic crisis and the accompanying rise in deficit spending is focusing fresh attention on the need to trim spending. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has told committee leaders to offer their own spending cuts by the beginning of June.

"The spirit on Capitol Hill is now cognizant of the need to find some efficiencies," the administration official said. "I think you're going to see proposals not just from us, but from lawmakers to find savings."

Still, in the context of an enormous deficit, the sums under discussion are a drop in the bucket, analysts said.

"Obviously, the bottom line is frightening," said Rudolph Penner, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and a former director of the Congressional Budget Office. "They have a long way to go to show fiscal restraint."

Staff writer Spencer Hsu contributed to this report.


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