In their much-ballyhooed (and at this point, oftentimes abandoned) “Pledge to America,” House Republicans promised to reduce non-defense discretionary spending back to the 2008 level, which, as many analysts have pointed out, would entail cuts to a bevy of vital and popular programs and agencies (like Pell Grants, the FBI, all federal education funding, etc.) The House GOP claims that such a move would produce savings of $100 billion in one fiscal year.
The Republican Study Committee (RSC) — which last year crafted a “jobs plan” that would have caused $10 trillion in deficits while producing few, if any, jobs — is out today with a spending proposal that ups the ante for the GOP, claiming to cut $2.5 trillion from the budget. The RSC even goes through the motions of laying out $330 billion in specific savings over ten years.
But where does the rest of the $2.5 trillion come from? Reducing non-defense discretionary spending to 2006 levels until 2021:
Eliminate automatic increases for inflation from CBO baseline projections for future discretionary appropriations. Further, impose discretionary spending limits through 2021 at 2006 levels on the non-defense portion of the discretionary budget.
So what we have here, in essence, is a document concluding that $330 billion in specific cuts plus some hand-waving equals $2.5 trillion. It’s the underpants gnome theory of federal budgeting.
What the GOP leaves out is the real consequence of reducing all non-defense discretionary spending to the 2006 level. Such a cut would mean significant reductions in Pell Grants, federal highway funding, the National Park Service, federal education funding, cancer research, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, the Coast Guard, and the Secret Service. Here are some specifics*:
Pell Grants: About $14.9 billion in cuts
National Park Service: $600 million
Immigration and Customs Enforcement: $2.9 billion
Secret Service: $300 million
Coast Guard: $2.6 billion.
National Institutes of Health: $5 billion
Federal Prison System: $1.5 billion.
Every dollar that is preserved in those programs and agencies means that a deeper cut has to be made somewhere else. The RSC also left the defense budget completely off the table.
Even the specific cuts that the RSC laid out, like those to the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Program, Economic Development Administration, and mass transit, would be detrimental, particularly to innovation and job creation. It’s a real problem that Republicans believe randomly choosing a year in which federal spending was lower in total dollars, and asserting that we should just go back to that, is a responsible and effective way to budget.
*Sources: Office of Management and Budget and Congressional Budget Office data
Center for American Progress Associate Director for Tax and Budget Policy Michael Linden provided data analysis for this post.