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Killing regulation, not the deficit

The more familiar that Americans become with the House Republican plan to cut the deficit, the more likely they are to feel buyer's remorse over the midterm Republican landslide of 2010. Congressional Republicans want deep cuts in programs that help America's middle and working classes, while essentially leaving the massive budgets that go toward defense and corporate welfare untouched.

These are the priorities of plutocrats.

Over the past week the House has been debating cuts to the federal government for the remaining seven months of the fiscal year. Regardless of what ends up in the final legislation, it is worth looking at the leadership's initial proposal as a clear statement of Republican aspirations, which are to limit government's role in giving people a helping hand when they need one, and to curtail the government's ability to police corporate abuses.

House Speaker John Boehner says deep cuts are necessary because "we're broke." But the original cuts that the GOP proposed only impacted nonsecurity discretionary spending, a mere 12 percent slice of federal spending. The savings would be $61 billion out of a deficit of $1.6 trillion. This isn't a serious exercise in deficit reduction; it's a goodie bag for big business.

The conservative takeover of the House put a bright red target on the backs of federal regulatory agencies that keep industry from harming workers, consumers, investors and the environment.

For example, the Republican plan slated the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency that protects workers from unsafe working conditions, for an 18 percent cut. The reduction is so deep that it would slash health and safety inspections and hobble the agency's ability to respond with new safety standards. Estimates are that 8,000 fewer workplace hazard inspections would be done, and agency staffing levels would be reduced to 1974 levels.

The environment also got a huge whack, with Republicans seeking to cut $3 billion out of the Environmental Protection Agency. Environmental groups say it's a blatant attempt to cripple the nation's laws that protect air, water, wildlife, public lands and public health. Among the specific constraints, the EPA would be stymied from reducing carbon dioxide pollution, a policy that reflects how the Republicans are more focused on resisting the science of climate change than on reducing the federal deficit.

Overall, their proposal is a polluters' gift card with an unlimited balance.

The Legal Services Corp., a program to which Republicans have been notoriously hostile, is on the chopping block for a 17 percent funding cut. Across the country hundreds of legal services agencies rely on this money to provide lawyers to poor people when they have been cheated by an employer, landlord or lender. Without it, people without resources would be denied access to the courts — something that elicits a big shrug from the GOP.

Sweeping cuts are also slated for education, transportation, housing, scientific research and community health centers. The negative impact that all of this cutting will have on the unemployment rate and the country's nascent economic recovery doesn't seem to register concern. It is as if the only core government function that Republicans view as legitimate is war. In the initial plan, defense spending was spared. Want a job? Join the Army.

What Republicans don't talk about in the conversation on deficit reduction is "tax expenditures," the term used by the bipartisan deficit commission to describe the cost of tax deductions, exemptions or credits. As the commission said, it's "simply spending by another name." But Republicans claim that closing tax breaks is raising taxes and, generally, they won't hear of it.

That's why oil and gas executives aren't losing sleep that Boehner will join President Barack Obama's recent call to eliminate $4 billion of special tax expenditures for their incredibly flush energy industry. No matter how much these breaks add to the deficit, Republicans storm the barricades whenever there's talk of reducing corporate welfare, preferring instead to ax nutrition programs for poor women and infants, or food safety programs for the rest of us.

These are the priorities that the 2010 election has wrought. Read 'em and weep.

Killing regulation, not the deficit 02/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 19, 2011 3:31am]

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