Capitol Hill lawmakers will likely spend a large chunk of the rest of this year battling over the federal budget. President Obama’s 2016 budget request, released Monday, was the opening shot fired in the engagement. Now, the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation has laid down its marker in the budget discussions by delivering its “Budget Book” to conservative lawmakers.
Its goals are, in a word, ambitious.
Slashing spending here, eliminating programs there, and gleefully whacking away at various sacred cows, the Heritage proposal would trim trillions from federal spending over the coming decade. Its proposals are not easy to dismiss, either. The Heritage Foundation’s sister organization, Heritage Action, is one of the most influential conservative political action committees in Washington.
“Every generation confronts a defining challenge by which it will be judged, and so does every Congress,” the introduction notes. “To understand why controlling spending and debt is the signature challenge of the 114th, one must understand the consequences of inaction.”
Citing the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the report predicts a slowdown in economic growth, constraints on national defense, and an inability to respond to unexpected problems as likely outcomes if the federal budget continues to run large deficits into the future.
“Can any member of Congress, in good conscience, leave a nation under their stewardship with decreased economic vitality and at greater risk for national security or financial crises?”
Well, it’s hard to say “yes” to that, of course, but even some of Heritage’s staunchest allies might have trouble finding the political courage to take some positions the group advocates:
- Cutting defense spending by $305 billion over 10 years. Some of the proposals aim to save money by improving efficiency. Others, though, attack cherished military perks, including its pay structure, on-base elementary schools, and subsidized commissaries that provide low-cost goods to military families and retirees.
- Slashing social safety net spending by $3 trillion – with a T – over 10 years. The bulk of the savings comes from capping spending on means-tested assistance programs, but it would also reduce the Supplemental Security Income program and cut benefits for laid-off workers.
- Taking away some $50 billion for work on energy efficiency and renewable resources, and for research programs meant to benefit small business.
- Eliminating more than a dozen different programs at the Environmental Protection Agency, including nine climate programs and all regional programs to save some $60 billion.
- Eliminating crop insurance programs for a savings of $28.8 billion.
Do the folks at Heritage actually expect this agenda to fly in a Congress where most members aspire to be reelected? Of course not. But what the list does is set a sort of gold standard of ultra-conservative fiscal orthodoxy. When members of Congress come looking for the support of Heritage Action, they’ll have had a good look at the yardstick they’ll be measured against.
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