What Crucial Environment and Health Programs Were Sacrificed in the Budget?

Essentially, the environment, endangered species, the sick, and the poor all lose out -- and corporations and the wealthy win.

Late last Friday, with just an hour and a half or so left on the clock, Democrats and the GOP struck a budget compromise that prevented a shutdown of the federal government. The 'debate', if you want to call it that -- though I suppose it was more civil than, say, the 'debate' over health care reform -- focused around two things: How much was to be cut from the federal budget, and which 'riders' would the GOP be allowed to attach to it? The spending cuts were mostly political theater -- the debate over cutting either $40 or $60 billion out of a $3.5 trillion budget isn't exactly a substantive one. No, the fight was really over riders -- which would do things like de-fund Planned Parenthood or roll back our nation's environmental protections, specifically. So now that we have a 6-month budget eked out, what kept and lost its funding?

The Hill has a lengthy report on what got chopped and what hung on. Remember, this is all discretionary spending, so none of the big stuff -- the defense budget, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc -- was touched. No, it was more like a symbolic nibbling away of a bunch of smaller programs, done mostly for show so the GOP could prove to its anti-spending base that it cleaned house without actually doing anything substantial (or too unpopular) to gut government programs.

So here's what did get the axe (or rather, a bunch of really painful papercuts):


  • The Women, Infants and Children nutrition program is cut $504 million, foreign food assistance by $194 million and assistance to state and local law enforcement by $415 million.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency is cut by $1.6 billion, a 16 percent reduction, and lawmakers from Western states were able to include a rider allowing states to de-list wolves from the endangered species list.

  • Health funding also takes a serious hit. Community healthcare centers lose $600 million while HIV and other disease-prevention funds are cut by $1 billion.

Yes, because protecting endangered wolves is such a prominent budgetary concern -- it's just too


to discourage folks from shooting them, I suppose. And this process makes clear that the decision was made with the utmost integrity and adherence to the most trustworthy methodology; I mean, our government would never just barter away scientifically-backed conservation measures to cut a deal, right?

And gutting the EPA -- the only group responsible for protecting the public from polluting corporations, and the one that 77% of Americans wanted Congress to leave alone. Way to pay attention to the will of the people! And nothing says, 'America, I've got your back' than cutting $1 billion in AIDS and disease prevention.

I hold special scorn for those who want to tear away funding for programs that mostly benefit the disadvantaged, because this is pure gamesmanship -- if politicians were serious about balancing the budget, they'd either tackle defense and entitlement programs, or do something that would be much, much better for the economy than slashing government spending: raise taxes on the wealthy. Instead, tax cuts to the rich were just extended -- letting them expire would have brought in $36 billion this year; almost the same amount that we're instead cutting from these important programs.

Essentially, the environment, endangered species, the sick, and the poor all lose out -- and corporations and the wealthy win. For some reason, the story sounds familiar ...

Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.

Brian Merchant is a freelance writer, blogger, and editor living in Brooklyn, NY.