Congress Faces Tough Decisions on Budget Cuts
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
President Bush will find it harder to get his budget cuts through Congress because this is an election year. Most of the cuts in the President's 2007 budget are likely to be opposed by members of Congress worried about making voters unhappy. To find out more we turn to Jim Dyer who was the staff director of the House Appropriations Committee from 1994 to 2004 where he watched many a budget battle play out. Good morning.
Mr. JIM DYER (Lobbyist, Clark and Weinstock; Former Staff Director, House Appropriations Committee): Good morning. It's good to be with you.
MONTAGNE: The president sent Congress something that might be called a hit list of 141 federal programs he thinks should face elimination or major budget cuts. Why don't we start this conversation with an example, if you will, of one program. Walk us through what it would be and who might try to defend it.
Mr. DYER: Well, let's take community development block grants, for example. It's a very popular program among cities and municipalities that need infrastructure work nationwide. I would be very pessimistic that putting an agenda item like this out front would have any level of success this year. I think there's too much of a public outcry for additional infrastructure funds and I do not believe the Congress would take it on and do it.
MONTAGNE: Well, like the community development block grants, all but a few of the programs on this list have been in previous budgets and the president's attempted to cut them. Is there any reason to believe Congress would cut more of these programs this year than it has in the past?
Mr. DYER: No there isn't. This budget follows a pattern that previous budgets for the last several years have taken on and I'd be very comfortable in predicting that you'd see a similar pattern the next couple of years. And that is, that the so-called non-defense, non-homeland discretionary items; the basic items, everywhere from agriculture, to community development, to environment, to parks; things that are not tied directly to national security or to homeland security, end up on the chopping block. Now, you say to me, is there some incentive to do some of this and I'll say to you, absolutely!
MONTAGNE: Right. Let's actually turn to that. What role would you expect fiscal conservatives in Congress to play in this? After all, they have to balance election year politics with supporting the President.
Mr. DYER: I think the conservatives--they're frustrated number one because they continue to see the federal deficit go up and I think they are desperately trying to find some kind of magic formula and they will not increase taxes; that's not part of the equation. But, they're trying desperately to find some kind of formula for cuts in discretionary spending and then some desperate way to get their arms around entitlement spending. They had some success last year.
Congress did impose $39 billion worth of mandatory spending cuts and it was significant. It brought a number of howls from the minority because a lot of these cuts went in on education, they went in on Medicaid and they went out to people who were very vulnerable, but they were small cuts in comparison to the size of the programs and in comparison to the size of the double digit growth that these programs are encountering.
I think you have to talk about spending on the war on terror and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is clearly causing the deficit to hemorrhage. Everyone knows it, but this is a commitment that our nation has made and right now, until that commitment is modified, reduced or ended, you're going to have a large hemorrhage again in the defense and national security budgets to take care of these programs.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. DYER: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Jim Dyer is a former staff director of the House Appropriations Committee. He's now a lobbyist with the Washington firm, Clark and Weinstock.
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