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 ...

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