Dems fight to save Bush programs from GOP

Annie Lowrey has a gem of a story this morning on a fascinating budget fight on Capitol Hill, which has become vaguely surreal.

Policy experts and academics consider home-visiting programs — where nurses counsel teenage mothers and other at-risk parents — to be among the most effective social interventions. The programs slash the incidence of neglect, bolster infant health and in some cases save taxpayers money by cutting costs.

But not all programs follow best practices, or even track their results. To tackle that problem — to make the initiatives more effective and accountable — the Bush administration created a pilot program tying federal financing to policy outcomes. States could get federal financing if they put in place research-supported best practices.

There are now six such “evidence-based” pilot programs that make taxpayer dollars contingent on results and that would seem to have natural appeal to Congressional Republicans.

Or so one might think.

Everything about a story like this challenges basic assumptions.

* The Bush administration, known for creating its own version of reality, pursued effective domestic policy initiatives that connected public investments to research-supported best practices.

* Democrats and the Obama administration, instead of playing the role of reflexive partisans who simply reject all Bush/Cheney ideas out of hand, have embraced the Bush policies and want to keep them in place.

* Congressional Republicans, who gladly went along with the Bush administration’s efforts at the time, now want to kill the Republican administration’s programs, including the highly-effective home-visiting program.

The GOP efforts, Lowrey added, “have bewildered social scientists and good-government experts.”

“Why, in a constrained budget environment, do you cut the programs that have to show they’re working?” asked Ron Haskins, a former Republican Congressional staff member and White House adviser who is co-director of the Brookings Center on Children and Families. “It makes no sense.”

The White House has also strongly objected to the subcommittee’s zeroing out financing. Jacob L. Lew, the White House budget director, sent a letter acknowledging the necessity of budget cuts, but asking that Congress retain spending for programs that can help states save money and improve outcomes. “In a period of limited resources, these initiatives encourage and reflect the systemic changes and evidence-based interventions that can achieve the greatest impacts at the lowest cost,” he wrote.

The extent to which congressional Republicans have gone over the edge is truly a sight to behold.