Yesterday, Senate Democrats failed to muster enough votes to advance their tax extenders bill (which extends unemployment benefits and a variety of tax credits), sending them scrambling to craft a smaller package that will reportedly be more politically palatable. In the meantime, Senate Republicans are pushing a version of the package authored by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), which is scheduled to receive a vote today.
As I pointed out last week, Thune’s bill preserves corporate loopholes that the Democratic bill closes, while simultaneously cutting funding for Medicaid, infrastructure improvements, and assistance to needy families (that also helps those families find work). In addition, the bill cuts 5 percent of the budget of all federal agencies (except the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs), while rescinding $80 billion in unobligated discretionary funds and $37.5 billion in money from the economic recovery act.
According to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Thune’s plan — since it comes so late in the 2010 fiscal year, which ends in September — could require such draconian cuts that many agencies would have to simply stop operating for two and half months:
Even if Congress enacts the Thune amendment before recessing for the July 4 holiday, and even if the Administration then works heroically to implement the rescissions immediately, the cuts could not possibly take effect before July 15. At that point, only two and a half months will remain in the fiscal year. And for an account that spends its funds at the same rate throughout the year, only 21 percent of the funds appropriated for 2010 would remain. On average, then, the Thune amendment would cut an amount equal to all of the 2010 discretionary funding remaining for agencies other than DoD and VA. Thus, his amendment would essentially shut down much of the government for the last half of July and all of August and September.
On the Senate floor, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) characterized Thune’s plan as “arbitrary, not-thoughtful, mindless.” This choice of adjectives is pretty spot-on.
Cuts of the sort that Thune proposes do not take into account priorities or the effectiveness of a program. The plan is a blunt instrument of the sort that conservatives love to promote, but that would also have many unintended consequences. As CBPP added, “a one-quarter cut in funding available for the final two and a half months of the fiscal year is unachievable without severe cuts in the services and benefits an agency provides, such as providing Social Security checks or conducting safety inspections in mines. Furloughs and layoffs would be inevitable.”
Thune also exempts one of the biggest targets for wasteful spending: the Pentagon. If you’re not willing to look at defense spending, you’re not really serious about addressing the deficit. And Thune’s amendment shows that he is not serious, but merely wants to take a meat axe to the federal budget to score political points.