Shutdown showdown

"Shutdown showdown" Continued...

Issue: "The rise of localism," March 12, 2011

Now the Senate takes up the efforts to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. The House bill is considered too severe for many Senate Democrats. "Republicans seem to want to take a meat ax," said Reid. "We believe we need to use a scalpel."

While lawmakers continued their verbal melee on how to fund the government for this year, President Barack Obama released his budget for fiscal year 2012. If it were a movie, the Obama budget may have received an even lower score on Rotten Tomatoes than current cinematic bottom-dweller The Roommate (which 6 percent of critics like, according to the website).

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the House Budget Committee chairman, declared in his review that Obama's budget "accelerates our country down the path to bankruptcy." But the chorus of negativity was not limited to one side of the political spectrum: The liberal editorial board of The Washington Post called Obama "punter-in-chief" for kicking the "hard choices further down the road."

The White House budget would spend a record $3.73 trillion and projects that this year's deficit will hit a record $1.6 trillion. Under this budget, the national debt would nearly doubly over the next decade. By 2014, the net interest payment on the nation's debt would exceed the amount spent on all discretionary programs combined minus defense spending.

But what caused the biggest fist-pounding is how little attention the budget devotes to entitlement spending. "Domestic discretionary spending is to entitlements what a pellet gun is to a cannon," wrote Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a former Bush adviser.

In fact, discussion of entitlement reform has been absent in most of February's belt-tightening debates.

Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., cited this as a reason why he was one of only three Republicans who voted against the House bill to continue funding the government. He said the cuts represented just 1/15th of the nation's deficit: "If we are really going to get on the right track here, we've got to understand that we have to make unprecedented cuts, and realize that what we are doing here is just a rounding error compared to what we are going to have to do with entitlement spending."

In the face of record annual deficits and a record overall national debt, Flake and others argue that even record cuts are not enough.

The debate is not expected to end any time soon: The shutdown showdown is merely Round 1. Next up: the debates over the 2012 budget and over President Obama's request to increase the national debt limit above its current $14.3 trillion level.

With Democrats versus Republicans, the House versus the Senate, and Republican leaders against Tea Party freshmen, expect words to continue to be the weapon of choice during this war over spending.

President Obama's 2012 budget

Spending will be a record $3.73 trillion-which constitutes 25.3 percent of GDP, the highest since World War II. The Obama administration's 2012 budget proposal projects this year's deficit to reach $1.645 trillion-the largest on record. This is now a record fourth straight trillion-dollar-plus deficit.

Cuts like a knife

The House's $61 billion in cuts for the current budget year (fiscal year 2011, ending Sept. 30) come from hundreds of federal programs. Highlighted cuts compared to the agency levels enacted by Congress for fiscal year 2010:
Securities and Exchange Commission: $25 million
Transportation Security Administration: $55.6 million
FBI Construction: $133 million
Food and Drug Administration: $241 million
NASA: $303 million
Customs and Border Protection: $350 million
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $454.3 million
State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance: $581.3 million
Internal Revenue Service: $603 million
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: $786.3 million
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: $1,397.4 million
FEMA: $1,492.6 million
U.S. General Services Administration : $1,721.8 million
Department of Education-Program Adjustments: $4,899.1 million
Department of Health and Human Services: $8,520.5 million

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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