Battle Looms over Cuts in Federal Programs
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Here's a closer look at another Washington story. President Bush sent a nearly 2.8 trillion dollar budget to Congress this week. It's his budget blueprint for 2007 and Congress will have at it over the coming months. NPR's David Greene reports that if the past is any guide, Congress is likely to restore many of the federal programs Mr. Bush wants cut.
DAVID GREENE reporting:
Slashing federal programs. It may not sound like the most popular exercise, but President Bush, who prides himself on being a champion of fiscal restraint, has been boasting about eliminating or reducing federal discretionary programs next year. Those are the smaller initiatives apart from the big entitlements like Medicare. In New Hampshire this week, he offered one example. He said he wants the Department of Energy to scrap a program designed to help energy companies locate natural gas.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: It sounds good. Somebody thought of it, you know, if you had a good title to the bill, but it's not delivering results. The private sector has got better incentives to provide natural gas for you. It's called price. Not the federal government's program.
(Soundbite of applause)
GREENE: A hundred and forty-one programs are on Mr. Bush's chopping block. The majority were there last year as well and survived. Alice Rivlin, who was budget director under President Bill Clinton, says programs have enormous staying power.
Ms. ALICE RIVLIN (Former Director, Office of Management and Budget): Safe and drug-free schools was one of our candidates for elimination. It's one of the Bush Administration's. It's still there. And I think it's very hard to get rid of programs, just on the grounds that they quote don't work.
GREENE: Still, Mr. Bush was able to squeeze out $6.5 billion in savings last year. To give that some context, that would fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for about a month. In his new 2007 budget, one of the programs targeted is Gear Up. It's a Department of Education initiative to help low-income students get to college. White House budget documents say the $300 million program has shown no data to prove it's fulfilling its long-term mission.
Mr. HECTOR GARZA (President, National Council for Community and Educational Partnerships): I do not accept the argument that there are no data when I can show them the data.
GREENE: That's Hector Garza, he's president of the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships, a non-profit that helps communities win Gear Up grants. He said he was baffled when the President tried to cut the program last year. Gear Up, Garza says, helps Mr. Bush meet one of his goals, raising education standards for low-income minority students. But Garza says he's not worried. Advocates of the program, he says, learned last year how to survive the budget ax.
Mr. GARZA: And once again, the switchboards at members of Congress are going to be flooded. Letters are going to be written. Students are going to be knocking at their door. Parents are going to be calling.
GREENE: Supporters of other targeted programs know the drill too. The Thurgood Marshall Legal Education Opportunity Program was on the list last year. So was the National Defense Tank Vessel Construction Program. James Capretta, a former budget official under Mr. Bush, who is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution, says presidents put together these lists in part to deliver a message.
Mr. JAMES CAPRETTA (Former Budget Official, Bush Administration): The general reaction usually is not the program dies, but it finds a way to get a little bit better. And that doesn't necessarily save us money, but it certainly helps, I think it helps the country.
GREENE: Mr. Bush boasts about saving $15 billion by eliminating or reducing programs. But this is an election year, a time when lawmakers are even more jittery about cutting things. And the President acknowledged in New Hampshire that lawmakers aren't about to just write his list into law.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: If it was that easy, government would be a breeze. Wouldn't it?
(Soundbite of laughter)
GREENE: David Greene, NPR News, Washington.