Senator John Thune’s amendment to the jobs bill may seem reasonable at first, but in reality it would essentially shut down much of the federal government from mid-July through September 30, the end of the fiscal year.
The amendment would impose funding cuts amounting to almost 22 percent of total 2010 appropriations for all federal agencies except the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, which it would essentially exempt. The cuts couldn’t possibly take effect before July 15, by which time programs that spend their money evenly throughout the fiscal year will have only 21 percent of their appropriated funds left for the year.
On average, then, the amendment would cut an amount equal to all of the 2010 discretionary funding remaining for agencies other than the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs. While the Administration might be able to protect certain critical programs, cuts of this magnitude would threaten such basic services as providing Social Security checks, ensuring food safety, and inspecting mines. Some agencies might have to shut down altogether.
Sadly, we’ve been here before. In 1995, when then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich tried to force President Clinton to accept Republican budget priorities, the ensuing stalemate delayed funding for many parts of the federal government, which had to halt non-essential services for about three weeks.
Gingrich and his allies, however, had misjudged how much average Americans appreciated what the government does to provide services upon which they — and their elderly parents and children — rely.
If not for the terrible harm that the Thune amendment would impose, it might be desirable to demonstrate again that such radical reductions in federal benefits and services are well outside what mainstream America wants. But that would be irresponsible — just like Senator Thune’s proposal.