Budget Cuts

Republicans on Capitol Hill are going ahead with their plans to trim the budget. Despite Tom Delay’s assurances that there remains no fat in the federal budget after several years of Republican rule in Washington, they have bravely identified cuts totaling $50bn – over five years – in health care and food assistance to the poor.

Needless to say, these cuts are tiny relative to the overall budget, but will have a huge impact on the poverty-stricken individuals affected. As Jonathan Weisman puts it in today’s Washington Post:

Even $50 billion is just a 0.6 percent nick out of the $7.8 trillion in federal entitlement spending expected over the next five years. At $844 million over five years, the embattled food-stamp cuts account for less than half a percent of the total food-stamp budget over that time, said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va.).

Weisman is good enough to provide a bit of context for this tiny cut in food assistance:

On Friday, as the Agriculture Committee was drafting budget-cutting legislation that could knock 295,000 people off food stamps, the Agriculture Department released findings that 529,000 more Americans went hungry last year than in 2003.

Okay, given the apparent Republican sentiment that a 0.5% reduction in a program is negligible, and that they are desperately trying to reach the paltry goal of $10bn per year in budget cuts, let me pose a question to House Republicans: why not make an equally negligible cut in the defense budget? A cut of only half a percent in the defense budget would yield budget savings of around $12 bn – compared to the $844 million that would be saved by denying food assistance to hundreds of thousands of this nation’s most impoverished people.

Would a cut of 0.5% of the defense budget – which Republicans argue is such a small cut as to be irrelevant when it comes to food assistance for the poor – have any noticeable impact on national security? Unless you can persuade me that the answer to this question is yes, I am forced to conclude that focusing budget cuts almost exclusively on programs that help the poor, despite the inconsequential budget savings that such cuts would yield, is not really about reducing the budget deficit, and instead is just plain mean-spirited.