It is budget season on Capitol Hill, and a Congress divided between Democratic and Republican control promises weeks, if not months, of gridlocked budget proposals. Just last weekend, House Republicans passed a Continuing Resolution that would slash government spending by $60 billion. A Democratic majority in the Senate hopes to tweak the bill and significantly reduce the budget cuts, while Barack Obama is verbally committed to using his veto power should the Continuing Resolution reach his desk. If the three entities cannot come to a compromise soon, a government shutdown is likely.
In class, we've been discussing the aptly named "Scarecrow Complex" or "Schizoid Combination." Though these names sound like something drawn from an Intro to Psychology class, this paradox actually pertains to a dilemma in American politics; while Americans are eager to downsize government in general, they are less keen on cutting specific programs. While many Americans agree that the government should provide public services such as education, security, welfare, and transportation, when it comes time to pay the bill, we're apt to dine and dash. Who's going to pick up the bill? The idea of raising taxes is about as popular as the "Tuna Supreme" that was served up in my Middle School's cafeteria (something I found especially delicious despite the sideways glances and looks of disgust from my classmates). Unless lawmakers can sell the merits of taxation to constituents or come up with another creative source of revenue, cutting spending seems to be the only feasible solution. And when faced with one of the most daunting economic crises in the nation's history, legislators sharpen their knives, as the proverbial chopping block is open for business.
In the Republican-controlled House, Speaker Tim Boehner quips, "When we say we're going to cut spending, read my lips: We are going to cut spending." So what are we going to cut? Current budget discussions are a real-time application of the aforementioned Scarecrow Problem. Congress members, like the Americans they represent, find it difficult to choose specific programs to cut. It would be unpopular for a Congress member who represents an impoverished constituency to cut Welfare and Food Stamp programs, for example. Even for John Boehner, whose District included a "Joint Strike Fighter" earmark that was cut from the budget, personal interests are sacrificed in order to deplete an already shriveled budget.
For some House Republicans, the tradeoff is less apparently agonizing. Perhaps the Scarecrow model doesn't apply; many are willing to cut government spending in any form, at the expense of public or social services. "We held no program harmless from our spending cuts, and virtually no area of government escaped this process unscathed. While these choices were difficult to make, we strived to spread the sacrifice fairly, weeding out waste and excess, with a razor-sharp focus on making the most out of every taxdollar," says House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers. The $60 billion in budget cuts contained in the Continuing Resolution include:
· $34 million from the National Drug Intelligence Center
· $20.5 million from the National Endowment for the Arts
· $336 million from School Improvement Grants
· $160 million from the FDA
· Uncalculated millions from various EPA initiatives
· All federal funding from public radio and television (those of you who listen to MPR are well aware of this, by now)
Does the Scarecrow Complex still pertain to American politics, in an era of raging anti-government and anti-tax sentiment? There doesn't seem to be remorse or agony of choice in these recent attempts to scale back government. Are Americans' sympathies aligned with Congress members' initiatives? Would most Americans agree with these spending cuts, if presented with an itemized list? If not, what would they like to see cut instead? What do you guys think?
For commentary on the budget situation:
For a full version of the Continuing Resolution, see: