The Blog

Cut and Run

Whaling Education, television grants, and other shenanigans in the Bush budget.

11:00 PM, Feb 10, 2004 • By KATHERINE MANGU-WARD
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EVEN CONSERVATIVES WHO ARE RESIGNED, more or less, to the president's "big government conservatism" get a little giddy when the White House releases its budget each year. Perhaps, they whisper among themselves, this will be the year that the president gets out the machete and truly clears some budget brush.

In order to indulge your inner budget geek, THE DAILY STANDARD--where we pride ourselves on our ability read long, boring government documents so you don't have to--is pleased to offer the highlights of the Office of Management and Budget's "Major Reductions and Terminations in the 2005 Budget."

Each year there's gem on the list of budget cuts--a program too absurd to exist. This year it's the "Exchanges with Historic Whaling and Trading Partners" program. Rumored to be near and dear to the heart of Ted Stevens, the chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, the program "supports culturally based educational activities, internships, apprenticeship programs and exchanges for Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and children and families of Massachusetts." The OMB deemed the "Exchanges with Historic Whaling and Trading Partners" a "small categorical program with limited impact" and gave it the axe. Maybe this year the $9 million the program cost the Department of Education will be spent on copies of "Moby Dick" for schoolkids instead.

A few proposed cuts revoke funds allocated in previous years from failing or over-budgeted programs. For example, the "RUS LOCAL TV Loan" program owes the federal government half of the $88 million it was allocated in 2002, having failed to prove its utility. The Corps of Engineers also owes Uncle Sam about $100 million in "unobligated balances" for programs that are "no longer consistent with current policy."

Some of the president's proposed cuts seem unlikely to survive the budget process. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, is slated to take a $805 million cut in funding for first responders. The 2004 funding levels, the text accompanying the figure reminds us, are "unrequested amounts," or money added by Congress to the original proposed budget. But earlier controversy surrounding cuts in first responders' programs is probably more than enough to justify cynicism that the cuts will survive the process.

Similarly, the proposed $404 million cut in "Child Survival and Disease" programs will be easy pickings for congressional Democrats. The cut is accompanied by an almost-apologetic-sounding note, which says that the budgeted amount will fulfill U.S. obligations at home and abroad--including commitments to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS announced in last year's State of the Union address. Maybe the OMB should have added an additional note to the effect that the president really does like children, because there will be plenty of folks ready to say otherwise when it comes time for budget negotiations.

MOST OF THE OTHER "reductions and terminations" appear to be sensible and well-thought out, if not particularly exciting. But out of a $2.4 trillion budget, the cuts total $12.8 billion less than last year. The size of the figures involved is enough to kill anyone's budget-cutting buzz.

The truly hard-core budget cutters--those who hope that rising deficits and tax cuts would finally start "starving the beast"--will be sorry to see that the Department of Education, long a target of conservative Repulicans, made it through the budget process intact again this year. But since no government in recent memory has actually cut the budget, conservatives might do well to take comfort in smaller successes.

According to OMB director Josh Bolton,"the president's budget is built on the sensible premise that government spending should grow no faster than the average increase in American family incomes of approximately 4 percent. This budget proposes to hold the growth in total discretionary spending to 3.9 percent." Since Bush has made it clear that defense and homeland security spending will not be limited by fiscal concerns, nearly all the cuts come out of non-defense discretionary funding. For example, in Clinton's last budget, discretionary non-defense spending grew 15 percent. Bush's figures look better. Growth, excluding defense and homeland security, is held to .5 percent in the proposed 2005 budget.

So if big-government conservatives and wild-eyed wielders of red pens can agree on anything, it ought to be praise for Bush's effort to restrain growth in non-defense discretionary spending to 97 percent less than what he inherited. Plus, we got rid of Whaling Education in the process.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.