Facts lost in ‘hair on fire’ budget compromise headlines

The budget combatants: Senate Leader Harry Reid, President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner

Now usually I don’t do this, because I like Think Progress. I like the Center for American Progress, from which it comes. But what ThinkProgress posted this morning about the $38.5 billion budget compromise, complete with this really scary title:

Budget Deal Slashes Nutrition Assistance For Poor Women and Children, Boosts Defense Spending By $5 Billion

screamed out by the Huffington Post (linking to the selfsame Think Progress post)

… and repeated by everyone from TPMDC to Moby

… is much more alarmist than it is accurate. 

The core of the post:

Here are just some of the cuts included in the deal, which should be voted on by the end of the week:

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC): $504 million

State and local law enforcement: $415 million

Community oriented policing services (COPS): $296 million

Green jobs innovation fund: $40 million

Community health centers: $600 million

Dislocated worker assistance: $125 million

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA): $45 million

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): $49 million

IDEA (special education): $16 million

Infectious disease prevention: $277 million

National Institutes of Health: $260 million

Sounds horrible. And shock of all shocks: the PCCC is already threatening to “withhold support” from the president they’ve never supported, out of pure OUTRAGE if the president continues his rank capitulation! … But as the Rotary Club motto asks: is it the truth?

Um, no …

Think P’s numbers come straight from the House Appropriations Committee’s “cut list” – a highly political, partisan document meant to highlight the amount of cuts, in order to appease the tea party freshmen — not the content of them, and which compares the decrease in program budgets versus fiscal year 2010, and also versus President Obama’s never acted-upon budget request for this year (something liberal economics writers have been doing as well.)

The equally political companion document provides the perhaps unintended clarification that the continuing resolution “… will include a total of $1.049 trillion in funding, a nearly $40 billion reduction from last year’s (fiscal year 2010) levels. This includes the $12 billion in reductions previously approved by Congress and signed into law under the previous three continuing resolutions, as well as nearly $28 billion in additional new spending cuts.” In other words, what we’re really talking about are about $28 billion in new spending cuts for this year (through September.)

So what are the horrors in that $28 billion? Per the ThinkP list:

1. Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC): $504 million -

This would be absolutely awful, if it were accurate. But it turns out the “cut” is simply a government clawback of unspent money left over from fiscal year 2010. Not a penny is being cut from actual WIC recipients. [Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, as reported to Huffington Post reporter Arthur Delaney]

2. State and local law enforcement: $415 million

Here, the fine folks at Think Progress managed to leave off the word “assistance.” They line item they pulled from the House Appropriations Committee “cut list” says $415 million was cut from “State and local law enforcement assistance.“ So what assistance does the DOJ give to states? The answer is a Department of Justice grant program — I’m sure a worthy one — given out by the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. Its purpose is described on the agency’s website as follows:

The Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Grant Program (Byrne Formula Grant Program) is a partnership among federal, state, and local governments to create safer communities. BJA is authorized to award grants to states for use by states and units of local government to improve the functioning of the criminal justice system—with emphasis on violent crime and serious offenders—and enforce state and local laws that establish offenses similar to those in the federal Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802(6) et seq.).

Grants may be used to provide personnel, equipment, training, technical assistance, and information systems for more widespread apprehension, prosecution, adjudication, detention, and rehabilitation of offenders who violate such state and local laws. Grants also may be used to provide assistance (other than compensation) to victims of these offenders. Twenty-nine legislatively authorizedpurpose areas were established to define the nature and scope of programs and projects that may be funded under the Byrne Formula Grant Program.

Around $480 million in Byrne Formula grants were given out in 2009, and there is no 2010 application period … because it’s a four year award. The 2009 grants were already given out in October 2009, so there won’t be another application period until 2013. Zeroing that amount already given out to states and localities appears to be one of those “accounting tricks” the AP wrote about.

3. Community oriented policing services (COPS): $296 million

According to the text of the legislation, the budget for COPS grants will now be $495,925,000 ($194 million less than the president proposed spending.) That’s a real cut, which will mainly impact grants awarded by the DOJ program to communities that come up with “innovative policing strategies” – it’s not a cut to the salaries of, or numbers of, police officers. Here are the 2011 grants still available, according to the DOJ/COPS website. President Obama had requested $600 million for one of the programs, called the COPS Hiring Program, for FY 2011, which would have doubled its size, from $298 million in 2010. $40 million Tribal Resource Grants were already made last September, and another $35 million in methamphetamine programs, $2.6 million for Safe Schools and a $170 million technology program are already funded and under way. That leaves about $355 million in programs from 2010 up in the air, and $495 million to pay for them.

In fact, as the site Community Grants Now points out, much of what was cut had to do with competitive grants:

Given that the total cuts were $28 billion, this does not represent a large amount.  Most of the cuts came from funds traditionally set aside for earmarks and construction funds that could not be spent because of Congressional regulations.

 4. Green jobs innovation fund: $40 million

This effectively eliminates new awards this year for the Department of Labor’s competitive grant program, which was just announced last month, “to support five to eight grantees with awards ranging from $5 million to $8 million each. Eligible applicants will include national and statewide organizations with local affiliates that have existing career training programs and will benefit a minimum of six communities per grant.” None of the “5 to 8 organizations” had received any money yet, and the zeroing out through September presumably means it’s a cool idea that could come back next fiscal year. But does it lay anybody off or cause any suffering? Not unless you thought you were gonna be one of those 5 to 8…

5. Community health centers: $600 million

According to the Senate Appropriations committee, the compromise keeps all 1,100 centers open and allows no cuts in services. According to ThinkProgress back in February, the Affordable Care Act (implementation of which was NOT defunded as HR1 planned) contained $11 billion in funding for such health centers, meaning the $600 million reported by ThinkP represents a 5.45% budget cut. That’s a significant walkback from what President Obama wanted, which was an increase in funding. But of course, Obama’s budget was never enacted, and was simply his opening bid in the budget negotiations (therefore it had lots of requests for budget increases.)

In addition, the AP reports on the budget trick of saving $3.5 billion by cancelling bonuses that were to be paid to states as bounties for enrolling more children in the Children’s Health Insurance Program.  Given how aggressively Republican governors and state legislatures are pursuing policies that will increase poverty in their states, I’m thinking the states won’t need the incentives to sign people up for help with medical care. [Source: AP] And then there’s this:

… officials with knowledge of the budget deal said that most states were not likely to qualify for the bonuses anyway.

 6.  Dislocated worker assistance: $125 million

The Senate Appropriations Committee says that regarding job training: “The bill provides a total of $2.8 billion ($182 million below the Fiscal Year 2010 level) for job training state grants for Adults, Youth and Dislocated Workers. H.R. 1 eliminated all of the funding for those programs. The bill also provides $125 million for a new Workforce Innovation Fund to encourage States and regional partnerships to engage in systemic reform to improve program outcomes.” And the budget maintains the 2010 fiscal year budget for Job Corps.

However, dislocated workers fall under a special category that includes people subject to mass layoffs due to a plant closure or foreign competition, people whose job skills are no longer marketable, business owners whose livelihood has been hit by a natural disaster, and homemakers who are trying to get back into the workforce. The latter two are usually not eligible for unemployment benefits, and workforce centers help people find job retraining and placement. The National Skills Coalition put out a paper earlier this year outlining President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget in which “Overall funding for the Dislocated Worker formula program would be set at $1.17 billion, a decrease of about $9 million from current levels.” If you take the $125 million cut as against $2.07 billion (current levels) that amounts to a 6% reduction in the overall budget.

7. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA): $45 million

SAMSHA administers a pair of block grants to states, which are used to:

  • Fund priority treatment and support services for individuals without insurance or for whom coverage is terminated for short periods of time.
  • Fund those priority treatment and support services not covered by Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance for low income individuals and that demonstrate success in improving outcomes and/or supporting recovery.
  • Fund primary prevention – universal, selective and indicated prevention activities and services for persons not identified as needing treatment.
  • Collect performance and outcome data to determine the ongoing effectiveness of behavioral health promotion, treatment and recovery support services and plan the implementation of new services on a nationwide basis.

In the 2010/2011 grant year, Florida alone got $180 million. Texas got $208 million. For the fiscal period beginning September 30th of this year, through September 2013, SAMSHA had put in a budget request for $3.6 billion for 2012, which would represent a $67 million increase over the 2010 budget. By that calculation, a $45 million cut from $2.93 billion represents a 1.5% budget cut.

8. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): $49 million

According to the Senate Appopriations Committee: “Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): The bill provides last year’s funding level of $558.6 million for OSHA. H.R. 1 would have cut $99 million or 18 percent from the agency’s budget.”

9. IDEA (special education): $16 million

What is IDEA? According to the website:

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.

Infants and toddlers with disabilities (birth-2) and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA Part C. Children and youth (ages 3-21) receive special education and related services under IDEA Part B.

The law is administered by the Department of Education, so presumably, the $16 million would come out of its budget. A bit more on IDEA, and what its level of funding was in the last available fiscal year:

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), federal special education funds are distributed through three state grant programs and several discretionary grant programs. Part B of the law, the main program, authorizes grants to state and local education agencies to offset part of the costs of the K-12 education needs of children with disabilities; it also authorizes pre-school state grantsPart C authorizes infant and toddler state grants for pre-kindergarten programs and early intervention services. Part D and Part Eauthorize discretionary grants to state and local education agencies for a variety of “national” special education activities, including research, evaluation, and the training and recruitment of personnel.

The most significant funding stream is that permanently authorized by Part B, and the greatest part of IDEA funding goes to Part B grants. In fiscal year 2010, which covers the school year 2009-2010, total IDEA funding will be $12.32 billion, of which $11.51 billion is dedicated to IDEA Part B state grants. When advocates say that IDEA programs are under-funded, they are most often referring to Part B state and local grant aid.

Out of that $12.32 billion, a $16 million cut represents a 0.13 percent cut.

10. Infectious disease prevention: $277 million

This would be one of the dumbest cuts in the bunch. Only a Republican could believe that cutting money for preventing diseases helps decrease federal spending, which would actually increase if more people without insurance got infectious diseases and say, needed Medicaid. And reports had said the plan was to cut $1 billion in funding for HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis related programs. I couldn’t find such a cut in the House bill. And there are only two line items in the amount Think Progress posted, and only one cut that seems relevant. Indeed, he $277 million Think Progress seems to be highlighting has a more complete title in the House Appropriations cut list: “Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.” Believe it or not, the CDC has an entire “National Center” to deal with that. It was created last February. According to the American Society for Microbiology, which testified at the budget hearings:

The CDC Office of Infectious Diseases (OID) has three programs to prevent numerous microbial diseases:  the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases and the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention.

The cut here is listed as a specific cut to the zoonotic disease program, not the HIV/AIDS program. If someone has fresher facts on that, please let me know.

The administration had proposed a $6.6 billion budget for the CDC overall – a 2 percent cut versus 2010 – and a $19.6 million increase in the combined infectious diseases sector, which includes the zoonotic bit. Without knowing how much of the budget the zoonotic portion takes up, I can only say that $277 million would represent about a 4 percent decrease in the overall CDC budget.

The only cut listed in the House “cut list” that references AIDS is a $14 million budget decrease for something called the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, which may relate to a previous request by the administration that overseas health clinics stop taking new enrollees in a U.S. sponsored drugs program.

Meanwhile, after going into great detail aobut how bad the $1 billion cut would be — and it would be bad — the Huffpo’s Jason Linkins offers this one-liner explaining its present status:

STATUS: Cut in the negotiated deal.


11. National Institutes of Health: $260 million

This amounts to less than 1 percent of the NIH’s budget. That’s “one” with an “o.” [Source: AP]

In addition, the National Science Foundation saw a $6.9 billion increase over the odious HR1. NOA got $335 million over HR1. The reduction in Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy projects comes entirely from the rescinding of $292 million in earmarks, and is $368 million over HR1. And the Mine Safety and Health Administration gets a $6.5 million increase versus 2010.

There’s a lot more interesting stuff in the budget CR, House or Senate version, most of which is sure to piss off the tea party even more than the left, once they figure out how little their man Boehner actually got out of the deal. In fact, the biggest single budget cut made: $1.885 billion in cuts to something called “rescissions.” What is a rescission?

A statutory midyear reduction or cancellation in previously appropriated funds. The President submits a rescission request to Congress, specifying the amount of the cut and estimating the impact. Congress then has 45 days to pass a bill allowing the cut in spending. If Congress does not pass a bill in that period of time, the rescission request is considered refused.

(Some Senators, including Dick Durbin, are already hitting the homefront, touting the budget items they saved from rescission.)

Oh, and they cut $6.2 billion from the Census, which is over, and got rid of four Obama “czars” who are already … um … gone.

That’s not to say that we should be cutting the budget at all as the economy is recovering from a steep recession (though it’s hard to argue that the budget should never decrease, even by a marginal amount.) Any economist worth a damn would tell you that’s a boneheaded idea. And its a tragedy both of Democratic electoral fail in 2010 and administration AND congressonal message failure (plus media narrative-flogging) that we seem to have ceded the argument that deficits, not jobs, are the biggest problem facing the country. But facts do matter, and in this case, the facts as first reported by the Associated Press still stand.  The Republicans massively failed to win significant budget cuts here. There are so many shades, accounting tricks and hocus pocus elements to this thing, it could have been written by that masked magician guy on CBS. It’s a sad day when I can get a more accurate picture from the Reaganites at Politico than from the Center for American Progress.

But as we gear up for the president’s deficit speech, which no one actually knows the contents of, that’s not the narrative some on the left are prepared to hear. There are people out there who have attached to Obama their pent up frustrations about the failure of liberalism to stamp itself on the American legislative landscape since the great triumphs of the 1960s. The reasons for that failure are myriad (some of them are well chronicled here and here.) But I can assure you, they have nothing to do with this CR, which was a pretty good blocking of tea party madness.

There are some truly illmatic things in that CR, some of them put there by Democrats. And the CR revives the ban on transporting detainees from Gitmo to the U.S. for trial – the same policy that has prevented Eric Holder from trying 9/11 suspects in New York. But overall, Harry Reid and the president won this round.

And by the way, the real madness begins with the debt ceiling fight and the 2012 budget fight.

This entry was posted in News and Current Affairs, Opinion, Politics, President Barack Obama and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Facts lost in ‘hair on fire’ budget compromise headlines

  1. Allan says:

    Magnificently done, Joy. I am very impressed with the detail you’ve teased out here, and I see that even Think Progress has acknowledged via tweet that your piece is “worth reading.”


  2. Alli says:

    Good God woman! this is fantastic. All those details. thank you.

  3. Tammy says:

    Thanks for the detailed correction on this, Reid.

    Unfortunately, I’m finding a lot of progressive/liberal sites to be rather misinformed or deliberately misleading. I’m disappointed because I thought they – of all people – would be a bit more cautious and read details before reporting. Lately, that has not been the case.
    And it’s not just limited to blogs. Even on TV, many of the professional left hosts tend to shoot first and maybe ask questions later.
    Even now, some are saying what the president will say tomorrow, despite not even having read the speech. It’s very frustrating because I’m starting to turn away from what used to be my favorite shows due to the constant whining and knee jerk reactions.

    I really thought Think Progress was better, but I see they, too, fell into the trap.

    Oh and I can’t stand Progressive Change Campaign. They are one of the worst offenders. I stopped donating to them awhile ago.

  4. Tammy says:

    After working their readers into a tizzy, they now acknowledge they got their facts wrong? I’m sorry; I’m finding these corrections too little and too damn late. What’s the saying; A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on. I think that applies.
    Hey, how about they at least learn from this and WAIT to hear or see something before breathlessly reporting what they heard. Because even though they may now see they were wrong, the misinformation is already out there. You can’t put the paste back in the tube now.

  5. wwjjd says:


  6. Pingback: Wednesday morning mishmash « The only adult in the room

  7. Flo says:

    Republicans get off on big dollar figures–like 38 BILLION; Dems can’t get excited over money unless there is an issue attached to it–planned parenthood, child nutrition. So they dug up a few BILLION of budgeted money that wasn’t going to be spent anyway??? Good job by the negotiators. When is a slash a clawback and a cut not so draconian??

  8. nathkatun7 says:

    Thanks for this excellent piece. This is the way journalism should be done. It is truly amazing to witness the way the holier than thou progressive go about manufacturing facts and outrages to inflame hatred of President Obama.

  9. Pingback: The cutdown: the tea party nearly shut down the gov’t over $352 Million and pap smears, and failed to ‘get Grover’ : The Reid Report

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