To the Bone

WHAT BUDGET CUTS CAN TELL US

In Feburary, the Center for American Progress, an influential liberal think tank, posted a drab two-column chart on its Web site, pairing programs under the knife in the House Republicans’ budget proposal with tax cuts of similar size. At first glance, the chart looks like something only a policy wonk could love: dull colors, a litany of budget statistics, cost projections for tax policy, acronyms of obscure federal programs. Are you yawning yet?

Don’t. The chart tells a scandalous story about the values that underlie the GOP proposal. Look closer, and you’ll notice something both ironic and telling: low-income housing programs are in for an $8.9 billion cut—the same amount it will cost over the next ten years to allow mortgage interest deductions for vacation homes.

Budget proposals are not just the domain of accountants and technocrats. They embody values: what leaders believe should be cut or preserved; which functions they see as essential; which programs deserve scarce resources. At its core, the budget debate unfolding in Washington is a clash of values. Since the 2010 midterms, Republicans have made their priorities clear. During last November’s debate over extending the Bush tax cuts, then-Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) advocated “extending all of the current tax rates and making them permanent”—including the cuts on income over $250,000, which affect only the wealthiest 2 percent of...

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About the Author

Nathan Pippenger is a freelance writer in Berkeley, California.