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Republican spending plan signals a new culture war

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Friday, January 21, 2011; 8:00 PM

The morning after the House voted to repeal the health-care law, Speaker John Boehner walked into a TV studio in the Capitol complex to announce his next act: "a ban on taxpayer funding of abortions across all federal programs."

It "reflects the will of the people," Boehner proclaimed. "It's one of our highest legislative priorities."

"First repeal health care, now this.... What about jobs?" the first questioner asked after Boehner finished his abortion rollout. "I thought that jobs was the highest priority."

"Our members feel very strongly about the sanctity of human life," Boehner answered. "We listened to the American people."

Actually, Mr. Speaker, 63 percent of voters said the economy was the most important issue, according to exit polls for the November election. Voters asked for jobs - and you're giving them a culture war.

About 30 minutes after Boehner left the studio, leaders of the Republican Study Committee, a group that claims most House Republicans as members, walked into the same room to announce its new spending bill. Among the items the group proposes to eliminate or decimate: the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Title X birth control and family planning, AmeriCorps, the Energy Star program and work on fuel efficient cars, and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Ostensibly, their cuts were about reducing the deficit, but their list clearly had more to do with settling old scores. Many of the items - including the renewed targeting of Big Bird and the rest of PBS - were holdovers from Newt Gingrich's '95 wish list.

But, like Boehner did earlier, Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the RSC, claimed he was doing what the voters "elected us to do." Never mind all that folderol about jobs.

This isn't just some ideologue talking: Jordan speaks for the new Republican majority. Of the 242 House Republicans, 176 are members of the RSC - and the leadership obeys. As the RSC news conference was beginning, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's office e-mailed a news release saying he "applauds" the group's effort.

The RSC proposal that generated this applause would cut spending in the current fiscal year by $80 billion. But because the fiscal year is half over, and because the group exempts defense, veterans and homeland security spending from the cuts, that would mean a 40 percent cut for the rest of the year on average for such things as the National Institutes of Health, the FBI and federal prosecutors, according to Scott Lilly of the Center for American Progress.

In the calculations for the next 10 years, the Department of Homeland Security and veterans' programs are no longer protected. That means that in 2021, we'd be spending, on average, 42 percent less than we do today on everything from veterans' health care to federal prisons, according to an analysis by Jim Horney of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, another liberal think tank.

Just about everybody agrees big cuts will be necessary to close the federal deficit, but the lawmakers left the specifics of their $2.5 trillion cuts for another day. The cuts they did spell out were relatively small - $330 billion over 10 years - but their choices left little doubt that they were trying to stir up cultural and political mischief.

Those eastern elites, in addition to losing their NPR, PBS and other cultural offerings, would have to part with their Amtrak subsidies and their money to fight beach erosion. Greens would lose funds for the National Organic Certification program. The District of Columbia would lose $210 million in annual federal payments and the capital's Metro system would be singled out to lose $150 million in annual federal funds.

Also coming in for special cuts would be labor (the bill would repeal rules requiring federal contractors to pay the prevailing wage); international relations (funds for the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development would be slashed); the poor (housing and other anti-poverty programs that fund soup kitchens and the like would take big hits); and federal workers (a halving of the federal travel budget could mean half as many food safety, mine safety and immigration inspections).

After the RSC's Jordan and his colleagues rolled out their plan, a reporter in the audience asked whether the firebrands might be able to negotiate with Democrats. "Some of these Democrat senators may have seen the light and found Jesus," Jordan replied, "and realized that they now need to cut spending in light of what the American people said last fall."

No, congressman, Americans said they want economic recovery. Instead, you're talking about finding Jesus and losing Big Bird.

danamilbank@washpost.com


© 2011 The Washington Post Company

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