If you’ve heard anything about the upcoming budget battle, it’s probably that Republicans want to dramatically slash spending. Yay, fiscal conservatism!
What you may not know is that many of their funding cuts would increase deficits in the long run.
Here’s why. You know how you’re supposed to go to the doctor for preventive care so you don’t get really sick later on? Some government spending programs serve a similar purpose. We spend a little money now to avoid much higher spending – or, alternatively, major revenue shortfalls – down the road. Unfortunately, amid their attempts to hack away at spending across the board, penny-wise-pound-foolish Republicans have not exactly protected programs that provide good returns on their investment. In fact, in some cases, Republicans have explicitly targeted these programs for elimination.
▪ The Internal Revenue Service. Congress has been slashing the IRS’s budget for years; it’s already down 18 percent since fiscal 2010, in inflation-adjusted terms, even though the agency’s responsibilities have increased. The House and Senate bills would cut funding even further. Yes, everyone loves to hate the IRS, and given recent scandals, it probably needs better oversight. But if you’re a fiscal conservative, cutting the IRS budget is backward. Every dollar appropriated brings in hundreds of dollars in revenue. If the additional cuts in the House bill are enacted, enforcement revenue will be $12 billion lower than it would have been had 2010 funding levels been sustained. Firing our nation’s bill collectors effectively means encouraging tax cheats, and it will likely necessitate raising tax rates in the long run to make up for the shortfall.
▪ Making sure people who receive disability benefits are still eligible for them. Two programs – continuing disability reviews and non-medical redeterminations – periodically do this, and they have a strong return on investment. Yet House Republicans want to set funding for these programs below what’s allowed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (aka sequestration).
▪ Family planning for low-income people and teens. Title X, which funds reproductive health services for 4 million low-income people, has found itself in the crosshairs because some of its funding goes to Planned Parenthood. By law, none of Title X’s funding can pay for abortions. In fact, the program discourages abortions, by helping low-income women avoid about 1 million unexpected pregnancies each year.
To be more mercenary about things, the program also prevents unexpected births and thereby unexpected children – which and whom, respectively, are often subsidized by taxpayers through Medicaid and other welfare programs. Both House and Senate appropriations bills also ax funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, which has likewise proved effective at saving taxpayers money through reduced foster care and health-care spending, and higher lifetime incomes for and taxes from women who never had to drop out of school because they had babies earlier than they intended.
On net, every dollar spent on publicly funded planning services saves an estimated $7 in other public expenditures. But right now, confused Republicans in both houses are trying to nearly zero out such funding.
▪ The 2020 Census. The Census Bureau wants to invest in technology that would help make the next decennial census cheaper to administer. With better IT, for example, the bureau could more easily avoid sending people to the same vacant houses over and over. The House Republican proposal would cut spending on these investments in 2016, thereby raising costs in 2020.
▪ Federal building maintenance, repairs and relocation to cheaper sites. The appropriations bills in both the House and Senate prevent the General Services Administration from using about $1.5 billion of the rent it will collect from federal agencies to pay for these functions. Expect higher costs in a few years as a result.
▪ The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. The House appropriations bill rescinds all remaining funding for this center, which looks at health-care delivery systems that could reduce costs (e.g., alternatives to the problematic fee-for-service model). The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the center, assuming it still exists, will reduce federal spending by about $27 billion on net over the next decade.
The bottom line: Politicians often like to say that they want to trim the fat, increase efficiencies and, of course, eliminate waste, fraud and abuse. Unfortunately, the Republican-led funding bills, at least in part, do the opposite of all these things.
Sometimes, you need to spend money to save money.
Washington Post Writers Group