Five Ways Conservative Slashonomics Harms Us All

Isaiah J. Poole

When Congress goes back into session next week, the Senate will be under pressure to compromise with the House on a sweeping set of cuts to the 2011 budget. But there is little room for compromise with a budget plan that in so many ways does serious harm to people and to the economy.

For one thing, it would increase the unemployment rate to as high as 10 percent, The Wonk Room reports, citing a Goldman Sachs prediction that the House budget cuts would cause a drop in economic growth of as much as 2 percentage points this year.

And that is not all. All this week, millions of people are now grasping just how harmful the budget proposal conservatives pushed through the House will be to our most basic priorities: our health, our education, our housing, our ability to support our families, our ability to rebuild communities devastated by the financial crisis.

There are literally dozens of ways H.R. 1, the House continuing resolution bill for 2011, does violence to our values as well as to our economy and to millions of people. I’ve singled out five: 

Attack Job Training During A Jobs Crisis

If your number one priority is getting people back to work, one of the last programs you would cut is job training programs. And yet, House conservatives did just that: vote to cut more than 1.5 million adults and more than a quarter million youths out of worker training programs, and millions more out of job hunting services.

The Los Angeles Workforce Investment Board, to cite just one example, used these job training funds to operate 48 one-stop career centers and 38 youth centers that have served nearly 25,000 job-seekers. If the House conservatives have their way, all of these job centers and others like them throughout the country would close their doors.

The L.A. agency released a statement that said, "Some Congressional members have argued that the impact [of these Workforce Investment Act programs] is ‘unclear; in truth, some four million people were put back into the job market last year through WIA-funded programs, while employment and training services were provided to over eight million job-seekers."

Let’s Leave Children Behind

Head Start had its conservative critics, but there was little argument with the basic premise: Give low-income preschool children extra preparation for kindergarten and they will likely be more successful in school. But in Bloomington, Ill., this week, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., told a news conference, "The federal government has lived beyond its means for too long." Preparing children to succeed in school is a luxury he and other House conservatives say we can’t afford.

The 15 percent cut from current spending in Head Start funding approved by the House would mean that about nationwide 157,000 children currently in the program would have to leave it. Heartland Head Start’s executive director Debbie Ditchen explained how counterproductive cutting Head Start funding would be in her community:

Of Head Start’s 392 children, 110 would be cut from the program, Ditchen said. Of the agency’s 89 full- and part-time employees, 23 full-time employees and seven part-time employees would find their jobs eliminated.

The program helps to keep parents working and in school by providing child care. That means the cut could increase unemployment and decrease education, which could keep parents in poverty, Ditchen said.

But as Kinzinger is quoted as saying, we "have got to make some tough decisions." And shutting down early childhood education opportunities is one way to show just how tough you are.

Conservatives To Cities: Drop Dead

While we’re busy being tough, House conservatives in effect were saying, let’s kick the supports out from under communities that are using federal dollars to kick-start the private sector job-creation that the free market can’t or won’t do on its own. A whole host of community development programs were either killed or mortally wounded in the House bill, to the point that this week Republican mayors raised loud objections.

""It’s hypocritical to say you value the economy and cities and jobs and then go make drastic cuts to great programs like Community Development Block Grants, which we know have great discretionary opportunity to go exactly where they’re needed in our community," Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, who is also the president of the Republican Mayors and Local Officials, was quoted as saying in a news conference. Cornett was one of several Republican mayors who joined Democrats in signing a statement denouncing a 62 percent cut in Community Development Block Grant funds.

We’ve chronicled how leaders such as Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter have used these community development programs to create jobs and improve the climate for economic growth in their communities. Cutting these programs are yet another way House conservatives are killing jobs and choking off economic recovery in communities that were the most devastated by the economic collapse.

"You cannot run a country while attacking its own people," Nutter said at the news conference. But congressional conservatives are hell-bent on doing so anyway.

Don’t Stop At Killing Health Care Reform. Attack Health Care.

In 2009, congressional conservatives synced up with the right-wing spin machine to shut down ACORN, ending valuable services to low-income people. This year, the target is Planned Parenthood, and while the right says the issue is abortion, the effect is to target for elimination a wide range of health services for millions of women.

The vote to cut $75 million in funding for Planned Parenthood and barring it from future funding has sparked several protests this week that highlight what’s at stake, such as one Thursday in the upstate New York district of Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y.:

Blue Carreker, vice president of Public Affairs and Marketing at Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood, told the crowd that 2,500 women, men and teenagers use the Hudson location every year. “Well over half of the patrons who come to our centers lack health insurance,” she said.

“He cut off access to critical healthcare services for women and families in need. He was wrongheaded and he needs to be set right. What we want to do is send him a loud message … that he needs to stand for the healthcare needs of women and families and men and children in his district and he needs to stand for Planned Parenthood,” Carreker said before [Columbia County Voice leader Shirley] Ripullone led the crowd in a chant of “women’s health matters!”

Beyond the attack on Planned Parenthood is s broad assault on health services: $1.2 billion cut from community health centers. Deep cuts in block grants to states for mental health and substance abuse treatment. And, of course, all of the new services that were created by the health care reform law.

Low-Income Mothers: Eat Less

Of all of the cuts that House Republicans made, this may well rank as the most mean-spirited.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) helps low-income women and their children under 5 get access to healthy foods, and also provides nutritional counseling. That, in turn, keeps both mother and child healthier, lowers health care costs, and helps the child be more successful in school. Before now, there has been bipartisan support for making sure this program was adequately funded. That went out the window when House Republicans voted to cut $752 million from the program, or about 10 percent.

There has been several local news stories around the country this week featuring people who would be harmed by a cut in this program. How can conservatives be so cavalier about cutting a program that literally puts food in the mouths of babes? Part of the answer is in testimony the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector offered to Congress last year, in which he argued that "low-income persons, like most Americans, already eat too much" and programs such as Food Stamps were contributing to the country’s obesity epidemic.

In a sane political environment, such broad statements would be considered an outrageous libel against the poor. But last week its sentiment was enshrined into the House Republican budget: making poor mothers and children do with less food is now a national priority.

What makes this whole debate so unworthy of a great nation is how easy it would be to have a very different budget discussion, one in which we are not singling out the people and communities at the low end of the economy for sacrifices while not asking those who are comfortable and secure to give up anything. This chart from Donna Cooper at the Center for American Progress shows that instead of cutting early childhood programs, we could ask millionaires and billionaires to sacrifice their estate tax cut. Or we could ask people who own vacation homes to give up the tax deduction on those homes so that we could continue funding low-income housing programs. The list goes on.

The Senate and the White House have the opportunity to change the budget conversation to one in which we are doing what must be done to support economic growth, protect the needy and vulnerable, and set our children up for success in school and life. On this, there can be no compromise.


An earlier error misstating the impact of the budget cuts on the unemployment rate has been corrected. Also, Rep. Adam Kinzinger is an Illinois, not Indiana, congressman.

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