U.S. House Republicans brought their narrow agenda into sharper focus early Saturday by voting to slash domestic spending by $61 billion for the remaining seven months of the fiscal year. Tampa Bay Republican Reps. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Richard Nugent of Brooksville and C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores predictably joined in this misguided effort. By wildly hacking away at a small, 12 percent slice of the federal budget — nonsecurity discretionary spending — while largely ignoring the big deficit culprits of defense, entitlements and corporate welfare, the House plan would cause significant pain for Floridians and accomplish relatively little in reducing this year's $1.6 trillion deficit.
The ideologically laced spending plan, passed without a single Democratic vote, sacrifices education, transportation, environmental protection and health care while shielding most military spending. Fortunately, this isn't likely to be accepted by the Democratic-controlled Senate or by President Barack Obama. When the American people learn more about what Republicans embraced, it shouldn't be acceptable to them, either.
In the continuing resolution that would fund the government through the remainder of the fiscal year that ends in September, Republicans eliminated or starved programs and regulatory agencies they have been gunning for over the years. They cut off family planning and reproductive health care money to Planned Parenthood. They also eliminated money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports educational programming that Republicans have denounced as liberal. House Speaker John Boehner says the reason programs such as supplemental nutrition for poor women and their infants have to be cut is because, as a country, "We're broke." But that concern was nowhere to be found late last year when he insisted that the Bush tax cuts be renewed for the richest 2 percent of taxpayers, regardless of the impact on the ballooning deficit.
The House plan also takes aim at specific regulations that Republicans find politically objectionable. For example, it bars the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing limits on carbon dioxide pollution. Like a tea party manifesto, the plan strips funding from federal regulatory agencies that protect workers, food safety and the environment.
The cuts would hurt Floridians who can least afford it. An estimated 9,148 children in the state would lose access to Head Start, the early childhood education program. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research group, about 565,000 low-income college students would see their Pell Grants reduced or eliminated. About $30 million would be lost in special education grants that help the state meet the needs of disabled students. So would about $38 million in federal Title I money, which flows to public schools in low-income communities. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who voted against the measure, estimates Florida would have to lay off nearly 2,000 teachers if the House bill becomes law.
As Florida worries about attracting high-paying jobs, the House would slash $300 million from NASA's budget and $441 million from the Army Corps of Engineers, invariably affecting the restoration of the Everglades.
At least Young drew a line, where Bilirakis and Nugent did not. Long an expert in appropriations, Young voted against an amendment pushed by the most conservative House Republicans to cut another $22 billion in spending. Perhaps he can be the voice of reason in the stampede to cut spending without considering the consequences.
This is not a responsible blueprint for governing or reducing the deficit, which will require more focus on defense and entitlements. It accomplishes very little deficit-cutting while strangling investments in education and infrastructure, limiting regulators, and leaving too many poor Americans to fend for themselves.