Drafting a budget is about choices, not arithmetic, and the leaders of the Republican Party have made clear what they favor. They choose going soft on polluters instead of protecting Americans from dangerous toxins. And they choose subsidizing dirty fossil fuels instead of promoting research into the cleaner energy technologies that will make America competitive.
This is not an abstract exercise; Americans will feel these choices in our everyday lives. The House will debate the proposed budget next week, and that debate will be critically important in determining what kind of future Americans will have.
People value the services and protections government agencies provide. In fact, two-thirds of Americans say “the EPA needs to do more to hold polluters accountable and protect the air and water,” according to a new poll. Cuts like those proposed in the budget are out of step with the public. Yet Members of Congress associated with the Tea Party are complaining that the cuts don’t go far enough; they want the amount cut from federal programs to be almost tripled.
So what would be cut under this budget proposal? Does it focus on programs that are unneeded or lack public support? Hardly. Instead, it cuts agencies like the Food Safety and Inspection Services, which would be hobbled despite last year’s egg recall because of salmonella and ongoing concerns about E-coli in beef and spinach.
At EPA, the cuts include the funds that provide money for states and localities to build sewage treatment facilities and to improve their drinking water. Not only do these funds keep raw sewage out of our rivers and off our beaches, they create jobs. The money is spent on construction projects that state and local officials have determined are important.
The proposed budget also includes major cuts in research on offshore wind power, concentrated solar plants, next generation biofuels, and energy efficiency technologies. Advances in clean energy will make our air safer to breathe, give America a competitive advantage, and generate hundreds of thousands of jobs. Yet House Republicans are so ideologically opposed to the idea of the government promoting energy research that they are blind to these benefits—even as they ride the train lines, drive the highways, and surf the Internet that previous generations of lawmakers had the wisdom to invest in.
But House Republicans haven’t stopped at denying clean energy research funds. They are also protecting fossil fuel subsidies. They have devised rules for the budget debate that put off limits any spending on defense and any subsidies that are provided through the tax system. President Obama called for ending fossil fuel subsidies in the State of the Union Address, but the House Republicans rules would make it impossible to even consider this next week. It’s hard to cut the budget responsibly when much of the budget isn’t even on the table.
Worse still, the budget released yesterday is only the beginning. Under pressure from the Tea Party, the House Republicans in charge of spending are going to release a revised proposal in the next day or so with even deeper cuts. And lawmakers are likely to add provisions that block agencies from enforcing specific safeguards or laws. These are basically legislative earmarks – provisions to help a particular industry despite what the underlying law says. For example, a provision could say that cement kilns don’t have to abide by updated clean air standards.
Maneuvers like this will put people’s health at risk. NRDC understands that the deficit needs to be reduced and everyone will have to make some sacrifice. But this budget proposal is not about shared sacrifice or a considered review about what programs are effective. Instead, the budget proposal is an ideological crusade aimed at programs that safeguard citizens and invest in innovative technology. It is an attempt to use legitimate concern about the deficit to fundamentally alter what services and protections the government can provide for the American public.
By Frances Beinecke, President of NRDC, New York City, switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/fbeinecke/