A misguided agenda poised to capture the spotlight

A MISGUIDED AGENDA POISED TO CAPTURE THE SPOTLIGHT…. About two weeks ago, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, working under the assumption that spending cuts aren’t nearly as popular as Republicans might think, launched an interesting ad campaign.

The DCCC targeted 19 GOP House incumbents, nearly all of whom represent districts won by President Obama in 2008, blasting their support for a spending-cut plan that would “cut education” and “cut science and technology research,” which would in turn cost jobs. Soon after, some of the Republicans facing the heat felt a little defensive.

In other words, the ads had the intended effect. GOP lawmakers in competitive districts wanted to be seen as cutting spending, but started getting nervous when Dems told their constituents about the breadth of the possible cuts.

That was two weeks ago, and the DCCC was riffing off an outline released by the Republican Study Committee, which hadn’t necessarily been endorsed by the chamber’s leadership. Now, however, House GOP leaders have presented the details of their plan, and it’s not pretty.

Paul Krugman noted some of the cuts that jumped out at him, including deep reductions in aid for pregnant women and women with young children, NOAA, NASA, energy efficiency programs, scientific research, counter-proliferation, FEMA, environmental protections, community health centers, and Centers for Disease Control. Summarizing the Republican philosophy, Krugman concluded, “Don’t start thinking about tomorrow.”

Jonathan Cohn also weighed in with a more detailed piece, explaining, “Now we know what life will be like if the House Republicans get their way: Financial aid for college will decline, food-borne illness will spread more easily, Head Start programs will shrink, and Big Bird might be out of business.” Among the many cuts:

About 8 million college students would see their Pell Grants fall by about 15 percent, with the maximum grants of $5,550 declining by $845. “Our students count on that money, and we don’t have the resources to try to make that up,” one college financial aid officer told the New York Times in December, in response to talk such a cut might be coming.

Head Start funding would fall by more than $1 billion, forcing some combination of lower spending per child and fewer children in the program. The analysis I saw predicted more than 200,000 low-income children would lose slots in the program, although some of that may reflect the loss of funding from the expiring Recovery Act. Either way, it’s a pretty big hit. Oh, and about 55,000 instructors and teachers could lose jobs as part of the cut.

In absolute terms, the cut to the USDA’s food inspection program may seem a lot smaller — just $100 million. But that will almost certainly mean fewer inspectors, which is no small thing. As the non-partisan organization OMB Watch has noted, in recent years the number of inspectors has not kept up with the number of food producers — and “at no other regulatory agency does the size of the inspectorate need to be so closely aligned to the size of the industry it regulates.”

Title I grants, which help schools with particularly needy populations, would fall by $700 million, affecting 2,400 schools and one million children. Another 10,000 instructors and aides would likely lose their jobs, as well. This is a direct hit on low-income children and the communities in which they live…. Americorps? The House Republicans would wipe out its funding entirely. And the Corporation for Public Broadcasting? Same thing.

Cohn added that these cuts, if approved, would have a “devastating impact on public services,” which is true, and I suspect is the point. What’s more, it’s also worth emphasizing that a package of cuts like this one is the very definition of a “job-killing” plan — Republicans would respond to the ongoing unemployment crisis by deliberately putting thousands of Americans out of work.

Which brings us back to the DCCC ad campaign that made some in the GOP nervous a couple of weeks ago. I can’t help but wonder how Republicans in competitive districts will respond when ads tell their constituents, “Representative So-and-so voted for massive tax breaks for the wealthy, right before voting to slash education spending, aid for pregnant women, and safeguards that keep our food supply safe. He said we could afford massive giveaways to billionaires, but we can’t afford student loans, better roads, and clean air.”

Republicans are convinced the public will reward them for gutting the budget, cutting services, and putting more Americans out of work. I have a hunch their confidence is misplaced.