Showdown or Shutdown

I actually wanted to write about this over the weekend, but since the details of the budget that will fund the federal government through the end of the 2011 fiscal year weren’t being released, it would have been hard for me to say anything without it being on pure speculation.  So I decided to wait, and early today, the details did make it out to the public.  And I’m sure that all the talking heads on the TV and the radio are either playing it up or blasting it to shreds.  For them there is usually no middle ground… and some of the finer details usually get left out.  So because I had a few extra days to prepare for parts of this, I’ve got some information that they probably won’t be releasing.

First off, I’m glad that the President and the Republicans and Democrats of Congress could reach an agreement (a compromise) on a budget for the rest of the fiscal year rather than shut down the government.  I know there were plenty out there that wanted the government to shut down if the demands of the Tea Party caucus of the Republican Party weren’t met.  But that would have made things probably a lot worse than they already are.  Soldiers wouldn’t have been paid.  Tax refunds, in which some people are depending on, wouldn’t have been sent out.  Mortgage applications would have stopped.  And it is possible that our fragile economy could have ground to a halt.  Unlike in 1994, the economy we have today is very different and is very shaky at the time when we are starting to make progress in coming out of the recession.  But if the government had shut down, there would have been a group of people that would have been unaffected by it… Congress.  They still would have received their paychecks (though countless other federal employees wouldn’t have) and the President would have, too.  So in the overall grand scheme of things, I’m glad that a compromise was reached and things continue to move.

So I’ll start off with something good.  Public broadcasting will not be eliminated.  It will have a cut of $80-million compared to the 2010 fiscal year.  And I did say in a previous entry that this particular topic was rather personal to me.  But for those of us in public broadcasting, we are quite happy that our funding wasn’t eliminated completely, and I would imagine that we are happy to just take a bit of a cut.  Before the final compromise was reached, Congressman Todd Akin (R-MO) pretty much said that public broadcasting needs to do its part in helping the bigger budget picture… though defense needed more support.  I would like to address what the Congressman said.  We in public broadcasting don’t mind doing our fair share to help with the budget and whatnot… but the idea of complete elimination goes far beyond doing our part.  And I’m glad that the majority of Americans differ from the way Mr. Akin thinks.  170-million of us support and value public broadcasting, and we made sure that our voice was heard on this matter.

So let’s now get down to some nuts and bolts.  The grand total of the cuts was equal to about $38.5-billion.  There was an overall 0.2% cut across all federal programs outside of defense.  And then there were extra cuts to certain programs as well.  (A list of all the cuts can be found here.)  So what were some of the big things about this budget that was holding it up?

Planned Parenthood was a part of this.  Republicans wanted no federal tax dollars going to fund abortions despite the fact that the Hyde Amendment already outlawed that years ago.  This almost comes down to perception and appearing to do something that your core constuents hold value to.  Planned Parenthood is usually associated with abortions.  But how many out there really know much of anything about the organization?  With so much attention on it and words being flung by both sides about it, I decided to look up some stats.  According to 2009 figures, the testing and treatment of Sexually Transmitted Diseases/Infections made up 35% of the organization’s activities… along with contraception.  Cancer screening and prevention made up 16%, while other women’s health services made up 10%.  So where did abortion fit in since it was such a huge deal… just 3% of the organization’s activities.  Now funding for Planned Parenthood was not eliminated as Republicans had wanted (and the Hyde Amendment is still in place).  Now I don’t want this part of entry to be about abortion or my views on it.  That’s another topic for another time.  However, despite also provided services for abortions, Planned Parenthood also provides many other health services to the women of the community… most of whom are poor or lower middle class.  So completely cutting it off would have been a bad idea… though I do agree that abortions should not be federally funded.  But there is more to this issue.  Because Congress has overall control over the District of Columbia, it made it illegal for the city to spend its own dollars on abortions and eliminated funding for its needle exchange program.  Because DC has no voting member in Congress (again… another issue for another entry), they will get no say on this particular part of the bill.  And residents within DC are quite upset about it.  So upset that the mayor of DC, 6 council members, and 41 other people were arrested on Tuesday when they saw themselves being used as pawns by the Congress.

So where were the main areas that got budget cuts?  There were cuts to enforcing environmental regulations, scientific research, education, and health care were a few of the big things.  Head Start and Pell Grants, though having their budgets reduced, were not eliminated as Republicans wanted.  This is good as education should start early and be open to everyone whether poor or rich.  Education is the foundation and is the one true thing that can move the nation forward with the times.  But what about scientific research?  This would include funding for funding for new forms of energy amongst many other things.  And yet, oil and gas still get subsidies.  IRS funding will remain the same despite a call from the Republicans for a 5% cut.  I think that I could agree on a 5% cut for the IRS.  Homeland Security will have a cut, though most of it comes from first responder grants at the state and local levels.

So how did they come up with cutting so much money?  Most of it was through budget trickery… cuts to earmarks, unspent census money, leftover federal construction funding, and almost $2.5-billion from the most recent renewal of highway programs.  Four federal positions were also eliminated… the car czar, the climate czar, the healthcare czar, and the housing czar.

But there is an area that got an increase in funding instead of a cut.  Can any of you guess what it is?  The Department of Defense saw an increase in its budget despite the fact that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has repeatedly said to cut the department’s bloated budget… that it needs to be cut.  But neither party wants to be labeled as the party that cut the defense budget.  It would look bad.  So this is basically a political maneuver.  However, someone needs to step up and start looking at getting the Defense Department to make its sacrifices too.  They make up a huge portion of our budget and they should be taking it like everything else.  Yes, I know they are in control of defending our country and we do have troops serving overseas.  But the department can cut its budget effectively without it interfering with either of those two things.  Late last year, there was a fight in a congressional spending bill.  In the bill was several million dollars for a jet engine that the Defense Department was saying that it didn’t need and yet Congress remained insistent that the money stay in the bill.  Luckily, that bill failed and the money for that jet engine that no one wanted, went nowhere.

So how much does this $38-billion in cuts add up to when talking about the entire budget?  Let’s assume that the budget is a pie or a pizza.  Then the cuts are roughly the size of a crumb.  Yep.  That’s it.  If you really want to start tackling the bigger budget issues to get our spending under control… then it’s the bigger issues and not these little things that will do it.  These are the things like Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and Defense.  Yes, these are the big fights and there needs to be major reform in all of those things.  It’s time to make each one for cost effective without cutting services to those who already rely upon them.  Let’s also have Congress step up to show how serious it is about cutting costs.  I think all the elected people serving in Congress (House and Senate) should take at least a 10-20% pay cut.  Also, have them invest in Social Security and Medicare.  Have them pay into their own 401k plan instead of having the American taxpayer pay for their pensions.  I can barely afford to put money into my own retirement plan.  And make them all pay into private health insurance out of their own pockets just like we all do.  Why should I have to pay for my own health insurance and pay for theirs, too.  Maybe it’s time they put their money where their mouth is.

And there is something else to add to this that came to light today.  It would appear that the wealthiest Americans (and I’m talking about the top 1% of the population) aren’t very happy with their taxes.  But this is a bit different than you might think.  They’re unhappy that they aren’t paying more in them.  That’s right, the wealthiest of wealthy want their taxes to go up… but the President and Congress won’t do it.  You want to close budget loopholes and bring in more money to help shore up the government, then I agree with those rich people.  Tax them and close all of their loopholes that they get that an average American doesn’t.  They want it so give it to them.  And hat’s off to them for having enough balls to stand up and say it.

Despite what many Tea Partiers might want to think, compromise is not a dirty word, and for now, it’s alive within our federal government.  Despite having their heals dug in, the two sides reached an agreement where neither got what they completely wanted.  That’s what its going to take because there are two even larger battles ahead… the debate over how much the federal government can borrow (which the limit will be reached in July as of right now), and then the 2012 fiscal debate.  For the things that were saved this round, they may come back up again later.  And this time, as a member of the voting community, I demand that our leaders start tackling the larger issues that take up our federal budget instead of all this little this which doesn’t even make a dent.  When both sides kept claiming that the other side was “all smoke and mirrors”, they didn’t know how true that statement was because both sides just threw up a major smoke screen that the average American won’t see through.

LINK: Here is the link to a chart that details the budget cuts by department… click HERE.

NEWS ARTICLE: For more information on the budget tricks that were used… click HERE.

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