In Tuesday morning’s media briefing, President Obama broke out a new vehicular metaphor to defend his budget. He is apparently abandoning the infamous ditch-trapped car for a watercraft. “This is a matter of everybody having a serious conversation about where we want to go and then ultimately everybody getting into that boat at the same time so it doesn’t tip over,” the president said.
While 24th District Congressmember Elton Gallegly is not sure that Obama’s boat is seaworthy, Congressmember Lois Capps, who represents the county’s coast-hugging regions, is ready to jump in. She said in a statement, “If we’re going to ‘win the future,’ then we need to out-educate, out-build, and out-innovate our competitors.” Capps believes that the president’s budget begins the task of making painful cuts while increasing investments in “infrastructure, education, and research and development.”
Gallegly, on the other hand, put out a very brief statement in which he claimed that the president’s budget would increase new spending, increase the deficit, and increase taxes “on families, small businesses, and job creators.” “We must cut spending and taxes to allow the private sector to create jobs, not increase burdens on businesses and families,” he said.
Municipalities look to gain funding for infrastructure, public transportation, and police officers but will suffer from cuts to Community Development Block Grants and the elimination of Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants. Such grants allow local governments a wide degree of discretion on how the money is spent.
Elizabeth Kautz, mayor of Burnsville, Minnesota, and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said that these grants “create jobs, leverage private economic development, build infrastructure, promote homeownership, support energy-efficient improvements, and provide social services.”
Besides cutting block grants, Obama’s budget would also substantially cut defense spending and increase taxes on individuals who make over $250,000 per year, as well as financial institutions, fossil-fuel energy producers, insurance companies, and U.S.-based multinational corporations.
Other gains come in cuts to 85 federal programs (adding up to $6 billion annually) and cuts to Pell Grants for college students taking summer courses. Graduate students would also have to pay interest on loans that are currently interest-free.
One of the big winners is school districts, which will vie for $1.4 billion in competitive grants.
President Obama’s budget does decrease the deficit, but does not bring it under $1 trillion. He also does not address the structural deficit-drivers that are built in to the federal budget, namely entitlement spending on programs like Social Security and Medicare. It was in response to such criticism that Obama said we need to first get into the boat. He said that his decision to not yet address these programs is not a signal that he doesn’t plan on doing so.
Making changes to these entitlement programs is extremely difficult politically. Republicans, who are advocating for deeper cuts across the board, will have their chance to put their money where their mouth is in a month or so when they unveil their own budget proposal.
Meanwhile, they need to hammer out a funding bill by March 4 to keep the federal government functioning for the rest of the year. The House version of that bill would slash money for Pell Grants, Title X programs for family planning, Head Start, and scientific research.
Between the passage of the bill and December, the National Institutes of Health alone would lose $1 billion, a hefty chunk of which goes to UCSB, the largest employer in the county. A UCSB life sciences professor has already contacted Capps’s office to voice his concern.