Federal agriculture, education programs among first to face budget cuts

Gov. Scott Walker has presented his full budget proposal in a speech to Wisconsin lawmakers. His plan cuts $1.5 billion in aid to public schools and government but avoids any tax or fee increases, furloughs or widespread layoffs. (March 1)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 2, 2011; 8:25 PM

These, apparently, were the worst ideas in Washington.

An Agriculture Department program was supposed to bring broadband access to rural areas that didn't have it. Instead, it often brought broadband to suburbs that did.

An Education Department program spent $911 million to create schools-within-schools but achieved only "modest or neutral" academic improvement.

Another education program - designed to help parents and children learn reading together - spent $1.6 billion. But a study found it had little effect.

And another education program spent $157 million to help older children read. The result? "No difference in performance," one study said.

Republicans and Democrats are not in harmony about much of the federal budget, but they have now agreed that these things shouldn't be in it. They slashed the programs in a short-term budget deal that was approved by the Senate and signed by President Obama on Wednesday.

Watchdog groups call it a start.

But they say this move is less a display of the "new" Washington's budget-cutting bravery than a revelation of the old Washington's inertia: These programs had survived for years, despite persistent troubles.

"It's really what happens next that will show whether they're serious" about cutting the budget, said Thomas A. Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste. "These are the easy ones."

The budget deal, which will put off a government shutdown for at least two weeks, includes $4 billion in spending cuts. A few Democrats raised objections to the reductions, arguing that they will shortchange education.

The bill passed 335 to 91 in the House, and 91 to 9 in the Senate.

Among these reductions - the first casualties of this term's congressional budget fight - four items stood out that together would have cost $433 million. Over the years, they have demonstrated how hard it is to kill a federal program.

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