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Who You Calling ‘Draconian?’



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The ink was barely dry on House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s proposal to set an appropriations ceiling for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 — a move that would save $74 billion compared with the amount initially requested last year by President Obama — before top-ranking Democrats began trashing it.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) instantly dismissed Ryan’s proposal — an effort to scale back non-security spending to 2008 levels — as “unworkable.” A visibly agitated Reid told reporters on Capitol Hill that Ryan’s cuts were “even more draconian than we originally anticipated.” And given what most Democrats think of Ryan’s “Roadmap for America,” that’s saying something.

From Ryan’s perspective, however, the cuts are only the beginning. “This is just a down-payment by Republicans to get spending under control,” he said in a statement. “House Republicans will continue to tackle the country’s fiscal problems by advancing spending cuts and spending reforms, and by charting a new course with a new budget for the upcoming fiscal year.”

Clearly, we have two competing philosophies as to what constitutes “draconian.”

It’s worth looking at these figures in context. President Obama, upon taking office in January 2009, embarked on a federal spending spree of Brobdingnagian proportions. Between 2008 and 2010, non-defense discretionary spending increased by 84 percent (this includes the so-called “stimulus” package). The administration sold its profligacy under the pretense of “job creation.” But the stimulus failed, rather profoundly, on that front, and largely because most of the spending went toward shoring up unions, special-interest groups, and already bloated federal agencies — or was simply wasted on superfluous projects.

Now that House Republicans are seeking a return to pre-stimulus levels — and targeting many of these same propped-up federal agencies in the process — Harry Reid thinks its too extreme for his liking. But compared to the spending increases that took place over the past two years, Ryan’s cuts are strikingly modest — and yet only the beginning of what’s required. A closer look at just how much, and how rapidly, some of these federal agencies’ discretionary budgets have ballooned under the Obama administration reveals that well, yes, deep cuts will be necessary if lawmakers are even remotely serious about restoring fiscal sanity to the budget process. But draconian? Hardly. (Figures courtesy the Congressional Budget Office.)

                                DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION:

2008 level: $57.4 billion
2010 level: $63.7 billion
“Stimulus”: +$97.4 billion
 Increase (2008-10):
$6.3 billion (+11%)
Total two-year increase (including stimulus):
$103.7 billion (+181%)

*Compared to a total increase between 2000-2008 of 60 percent.

And where did that new “education” money go? Unions and prisons, where else?

                                  DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY:

2008 level: $24.1 billion
2010 level: $26.6 billion
“Stimulus”: +$38.7 billion
Increase (2008-10):
$2.5 billion (+10%)
Total two-year increase (including stimulus):
$41.2 billion (+171%)

*Compared to a total increase between 2000-2008 of 25 percent.

         ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY (EPA):

2008 level: $7.6 billion
2010 level: $10.3 billion
“Stimulus”: +$7.2 billion
Increase (2008-10):
$2.7 billion (+36%)
Total two-year increase (including stimulus):
$9.9 billion (+130%)

Hmmm. What might the EPA be planning to do with all that extra money?

                   HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES (HHS):

2008 level: $ 72.9 billion
2010 level: $83.6 billion
“Stimulus”: +$22.3 billion
Increase (2008-10) $10.7 billion (+14.6%)
Total two-year increase (including stimulus):
$33 billion (+45%)

And that’s not even counting the $115 billion cost of implementing Obamacare that was conspicuously absent from the CBO score.

                        DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION:

2008 level: $10.7 billion
2010 level: $21.3 billion
“Stimulus”: +$48.1 billion
Increase (2008-10)
$10.6 billion (+99%)
Total two-year increase (including stimulus):
$58.7 billion (+549%)

Compared to a total between 2000-2008 of 35 percent.

Good to know all that knew money went toward such useful endeavors like paying off the turtle lobby. And what ever happened to all those shovel-ready projects?

All told, and given what we know about how Harry Reid defines “draconian,” the Democratic leader (and most of his colleagues, no doubt) are in for a rough couple of years.

As Ryan said: “Washington’s spending spree is over.”

Let’s hope he’s right.



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