GOP spending cuts would affect millions of people

WASHINGTON - Low-income students may get smaller grants and the newlydisabled might have to wait longer for their benefits. And justabout every politician is going to get an earful from the local PTAif school aid gets whacked.

Republicans are finding it's one thing to issue a blanketpromise to cut spending, an entirely different matter when youactually take the scissors to $1 of every $6 spent by agencies likethe IRS, the FBI, NASA and the National Park Service. Federallayoffs would be unavoidable, the White House warns.

That's the real-world impact of House Republicans' campaignpromise to cut $100 billion from the budgets of domestic agencies.Next week, they plan to vote on a resolution setting appropriationsfor the rest of the year at 2008 pre-recession levels. beforePresident Barack Obama took office.

The vote will be largely symbolic. The actual cuts would have tobe made in appropriations bills that would have to clear a 60-votehurdle in the Senate, where Republicans hold only 47 seats.

The $100 billion promise, contained in the GOP's "Pledge toAmerica" campaign manifesto, is based on cuts from Obama's budgetrecommendations for 2011, but the actual savings in returning toBush-era levels would be a little less since the government isoperating at last year's slightly lower budget.

Still, compared with 2010 rates and assuming a full year ofimplementation, Republicans are promising to cut up to $84 billionfrom nine appropriations bills, cuts that would average 18 percent.Some Republicans, especially in the Senate, may join Democrats inbalking when they see their size.

A return to 2008 levels would mean significant cuts for lots ofprograms favored by Republicans, including an 8 percent cut toNASA, a 16 percent cut for the FBI and a 13 percent cut in theoperating budget of the national parks.

There are other political land mines.

Newly elected Republicans in Minnesota, Wisconsin and theDakotas are sure to feel major political pressure over big cutslooming for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known asLIHEAP, which provides home heating subsidies to the poor. FormerAppropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., who retiredlast year, orchestrated a doubling of the program's budget - from$2.5 billion to $5 billion - since 2008.

Obey said it's going to mean "a lot of people who aren't able topay their heating bills are going to have no way to heat theirhomes - or they're going to have to decide to eat less or see thedoctor less."

Republicans in Texas, Florida and Alabama - where NASAfacilities mean thousands of jobs - are sure to fight against cutsto the space agency, which could have to abandon the InternationalSpace Station, the White House warns.

Lawmakers in both parties from rural districts are likely toresist what could be an almost 20 percent cut to a program thatsubsidizes service by smaller airlines to isolated cities and townslike Scottsbluff, Neb., and Burlington, Iowa. Smaller subsidies ortighter rules would probably mean some communities would loseservice.

As local school districts cope with budget squeezes, they won'tbe able to count on the same amount of help from the federalgovernment. Special education grants to states could be cut by $1.4billion, or 11 percent, forcing hometown school boards to cutservices or make up the difference with local funds.

The Women, Infants and Children program, which provides food forlow-income pregnant women, mothers and young children, hasnear-universal support. But without an exemption from the cuts, 1million of them could lose benefits next year, according tocalculations by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, aliberal research and advocacy group.

"Cutting the big programs isn't that hard. It's the little stuffthat everybody fights the hardest about, whether it's LIHEAP or WICor all this other stuff," said Jim Dyer, a former top aide for theHouse Appropriations Committee. "You're looking at tremendouslypopular programs like state water grants, the national parks,cancer research, higher education, food safety - all of thisstuff's got to be on the table."

Pell Grants for college students from low-income families couldbe cut by more than $1,000 from the current $5,550 maximum grants.A cutback in housing subsidies would mean that hundreds ofthousands of people won't see their Section 8 vouchers renewed. Anda $1 billion, 24 percent cut to the historically underfunded IndianHealth Service would reduce critically needed health care in someof the most impoverished places in the country.

Republicans aren't saying that every account will be cut back to2008 levels. The most popular programs might be cut less; othersslashed even more.

The Pentagon, the Homeland Security Department and veterans'programs were exempted from the cuts when Republicans drew up thepromise but are likely to get a good scrubbing anyway.

"There are no sacred cows," said House Appropriations CommitteeChairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky.

Cuts to some easy targets, like the National Endowment for theArts - marked by Republicans when they took over Congress in 1995 -would save relatively little. Its current budget is $168 million; areturn to 2008 levels would save just $13 million.

The White House says the promised GOP cuts would falldisproportionately on domestic agencies whose discretionary budgetsare passed by Congress each year. They account for only about $1 in$7 spent by the government. Rising Medicare and Medicaid costs arethe real drivers of the United States' long-term deficit woes.

"In terms of the bottom line, we totally agree that there needsto be discipline in discretionary spending, but we shouldn't for amoment believe that these levels of savings will in and of itselfsolve the fiscal challenge," said White House Budget Director JacobLew. "The problem is much bigger than the total of nondefensediscretionary spending, much less a reduction of it."