As we head toward another round of debt ceiling and threats of government shutdowns silliness, I think it might be good to try to put some of the proposed spending cuts by the GOP in perspective. The United States government is a major operation, so any budgetary item you could look at is going to have a large dollar amount attached to it within the context of, say, our household incomes. And at some point when our minds see big numbers, it just starts to translate them all as ‘big’, regardless of how they may compare to each other. So I thought it might be helpful to look at the cuts scaled down to what we may consider more normal levels.
So let’s say we take some of the proposed cuts and divide them by a billion. You would get something like this: Subsidy for PBS: $0.45, Save American’s Treasures Program: $0.03, National Endowment For The Arts: $0.17, National Endowment For The Humanities: $0.17, Hope VI Program (public housing): $0.25, Amtrak Subsidies: $1.57, Community Development Fund: $4.50, Department of Energy Grants to States For Weatherization: $0.53, New Starts Transit: $2.00, Intercity And High Speed Rail Grants: $2.50…….and on and on. But you get the idea. Now compare these items to the size of the fiscal budget scaled the same way: $3,540 for FY2012. Or how about the national debt: about $16,880. It’s pretty easy to see that these are not the things that are busting the budget.
So when somebody says that Republicans are not serious about solving any sort of budget problem and just using that as a pretense to cut things they don’t like, this is why. Unless you start looking at actual big-ticket items such as military spending ($929 FY2011) or Medicare/Medicaid ($802 FY2012), then you really aren’t making any serious cuts. Of course, you could also look to increase revenues, but I know that’s just crazy talk.
Now somebody may say if it’s not much money, then recipients won’t miss it then. But that’s kind of silly too. The U.S. wouldn’t miss it much, but the recipients certainly would. It’s like Bill Gates deciding to stop giving an annual gift of $500,000 to a charity. To a man worth $67 billion, $500,000 is not going to make a big difference. But to a charity worth much less than that, losing out on $500,000 could be a crushing blow.
Certainly there would be some people who would say that the government shouldn’t fund something like the National Endowment For The Arts even it was just $500 (in real terms). And that’s an okay debate to have. But that’s a different debate than a debate about deficits and debt. So it shouldn’t be had under false pretenses. Of course, having honest debate in government is way too much to ask for.