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Whichever Debt Deal We Get, Our Government Is Getting Cleavered

A new report shows that no matter which budget plan we wind up with, some important programs will be getting cut.

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That sound you heard? It was the goalposts racing to the right.

What are we cutting when we cut NSD? Pundits have remarked that politicians refer to budget items they want to reduce as “spending” and budget items they want to increase as “investments.” In this year’s State of the Union address, Obama pitched a strategy to “Win the Future” by combining a five-year freeze on annual spending on the one hand and investments in “innovation, education and infrastructure” on the other. Obama bragged he would bring discretionary spending back down to Eisenhower levels, while also warning that “Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine.” So he would cut bad spending while strengthening smart investments.

But EPI’s analysis shows that public investment – education, infrastructure and research and development – is actually the majority of the NSD budget. In other words, the part of the plane Obama is looking to lighten is largely engine. As EPI writes, that makes it “a near impossibility” to increase public investment while making the kinds of NSD cuts contemplated by Obama, let alone the Republicans he’s negotiating with.

Given the makeup of the NSD budget, if Obama wanted to make his April framework’s 41.7 percent NSD cut while holding public investments constant as a share of the economy, EPI’s analysis shows he would have to cut all other NSD spending (a category that includes childcare and the FDA) by a whopping 84 percent. Under Paul Ryan’s budget, it would be mathematically impossible to maintain public investments’ current share of the US economy – even if you eliminated all other NSD spending entirely.

“In other words,” writes EPI, “it would be practically impossible to cut the non-security discretionary budget to the levels proposed in [any of] the various plans without either significantly cutting public investments or nearly eliminating everything else.” And the “everything else” includes programs like financial regulation and nutrition assistance.

Surveying these options -- Obama’s February and April proposals, Bowles-Simpson, and the House GOP budget -- EPI warns, “The numbers in these plans may add up, but to what? Crumbling roads and bridges, a second-class education system, a dirty and hazardous environment, lax consumer protections, and a government that can’t function.”

In other words, as politicians sit negotiating about the debt ceiling, it’s scary to think what a deal or lack thereof could bring. But what’s saddest is what the players agreed on before they ever got to the table: a role for discretionary non-security spending in our economy that would be more familiar to the Cleaver family than to us.

Josh Eidelson is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. He worked as a union organizer for five years. Check out his blog or follow him on Twitter.

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