Not even Big Bird will be safe in this cul­ture war

The Washington Post Sunday - - OPINION - danamil­bank@wash­post.com

The morn­ing af­ter the House voted to re­peal the health-care law, Speaker John Boehner walked into a TV stu­dio in the Capi­tol com­plex to an­nounce his next act: “a ban on tax­payer fund­ing of abor­tions across all fed­eral pro­grams.”

It “re­flects the will of the peo­ple,” Boehner pro­claimed. “It’s one of our high­est leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties.”

“First re­peal health care, now this. . . .What about jobs?” the first ques­tioner asked af­ter Boehner fin­ished his abor­tion roll­out. “I thought that jobs was the high­est pri­or­ity.”

“Our mem­bers feel very strongly about the sanc­tity of hu­man life,” Boehner an­swered. “We lis­tened to the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

Ac­tu­ally, Mr. Speaker, 63 per­cent of vot­ers said the econ­omy was the most im­por­tant is­sue, ac­cord­ing to exit polls dur­ing the Novem­ber elec­tion. Vot­ers asked for jobs— and you’re giv­ing them a cul­ture war.

About 30 min­utes af­ter Boehner left the stu­dio, lead­ers of the Repub­li­can Study Com­mit­tee (RSC), a group that claims most House Repub­li­cans as mem­bers, walked into the same room to an­nounce its new spend­ing bill. Among the items the group pro­poses to elim­i­nate or dec­i­mate: the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Arts, the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Hu­man­i­ties, the Cor­po­ra­tion for Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing, Ti­tle X birth con­trol and fam­ily plan­ning, Amer­iCorps, the En­ergy Star pro­gram and work on fuel-ef­fi­cient cars, and the United Na­tions In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change.

Os­ten­si­bly, their cuts were about re­duc­ing the deficit, but their list clearly had more to do with set­tling old scores. Many of the items— in­clud­ing the re­newed tar­get­ing of Big Bird and the rest of PBS — were holdovers from Newt Gin­grich’s 1995 wish list.

But, as Boehner did ear­lier, Rep. Jim Jor­dan, chair­man of the RSC, claimed he was do­ing what the vot­ers “elected us to do.” Never mind all that folderol about jobs.

This isn’t just some ide­o­logue talk­ing: Jor­dan speaks for the new Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity. Of the 242 House Repub­li­cans, 176 are mem­bers of the RSC — and the lead­er­ship obeys. As the RSC news con­fer­ence was be­gin­ning, House Ma­jor­ity Leader Eric Can­tor’s of­fice e-mailed a news re­lease say­ing he “ap­plauds” the group’s ef­fort.

The RSC pro­posal that gen­er­ated this ap­plause would cut spend­ing in the cur­rent fis­cal year by $80 bil­lion. But be­cause the fis­cal year is half over, and be­cause the group ex­empts de­fense, vet­er­ans and home­land se­cu­rity spend­ing from the cuts, that would mean a 40 per­cent cut for the rest of the year on av­er­age for such things as the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health, the FBI and fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors, ac­cord­ing to Scott Lilly of the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress.

In the cal­cu­la­tions for the next 10 years, the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity and vet­er­ans pro­grams are no longer pro­tected. That means that in 2021, we’d be spend­ing, on av­er­age, 42 per­cent less than we do to­day on ev­ery­thing from vet­er­ans health care to fed­eral pris­ons, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by Jim Hor­ney of the Cen­ter on Bud­get and Pol­icy Pri­or­i­ties, an­other lib­eral think tank.

Just about ev­ery­body agrees big cuts will be nec­es­sary to close the fed­eral deficit, but the law­mak­ers left the specifics of their $2.5 tril­lion cuts for an­other day. The cuts they did spell out were rel­a­tively small — $330 bil­lion over 10 years — but their choices left lit­tle doubt that they were try­ing to stir up cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal mis­chief.

Those east­ern elites, in ad­di­tion to los­ing their NPR, PBS and other cul­tural of­fer­ings, would have to part with their Am­trak sub­si­dies and their money to fight beach ero­sion. Greens would lose funds for the Na­tional Or­ganic Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram. The District of Columbia would lose $210 mil­lion in an­nual fed­eral pay­ments and the cap­i­tal’s Metro sys­tem would be sin­gled out to lose $150 mil­lion a year in fed­eral funds.

Also com­ing in for spe­cial cuts would be la­bor (the bill would re­peal rules re­quir­ing fed­eral contractors to pay the pre­vail­ing wage); in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions (funds for the U.S. Agency for In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment and the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment would be slashed); the poor (hous­ing and other anti-poverty pro­grams that fund soup kitchens and the like would take big hits); and fed­eral work­ers (a halv­ing of the fed­eral travel bud­get could mean half as many food safety, mine safety and im­mi­gra­tion in­spec­tions).

Af­ter the RSC’s Jor­dan and his col­leagues rolled out their plan, a re­porter in the au­di­ence asked whether the fire­brands might be able to ne­go­ti­ate with Democrats. “Some of these Demo­crat sen­a­tors may have seen the light and found Je­sus,” Jor­dan replied, “and re­al­ized that they now need to cut spend­ing in light of what the Amer­i­can peo­ple said last fall.”

No, con­gress­man, Amer­i­cans said they want eco­nomic re­cov­ery. In­stead, you’re talk­ing about find­ing Je­sus and los­ing Big Bird.

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