« Anti-Government Government | Main | The Official Break »

A Million Here, A Million There

In a great example of what the distributed, decentralized processing power of the internet is good for, a number of bloggers have teamed up to take President Bush at his word and demonstrate that the costs of Gulf Coast reconstruction can be paid for by cutting "pork" from the federal budget. "Porkbusters," created by Glenn Reynolds and N.Z. Bear of Truth Laid Bear, is an admirable effort, much along the lines of Josh's efforts on the DeLay Rule, Social Security, and now the Gulf Coast Wage Cut. In addition to contributing annotated examples of wasteful federal spending, participants are encouraged to "call your Senators and Representative and ask them if they're willing to support having [a local] program cut or -- failing that -- what else they're willing to cut in order to fund Katrina relief...Post the results."

After just a few days, the project has identified over $14 billion in spending that could be cut, a small downpayment on the $200 billion reconstruction project. And a lot of it is true waste, mostly the earmarked projects in HUD and Transportation spending that were under control in the late 1990s but have exploded recently. (Who knew there were so many bike trails being built?)

But cut all these million-dollar boondoggles and you would still never have anything close to the cost of reconstruction. I did a quick skim of the list, and there are only three items that amount to more than bike trails. One is the seismic upgrade of the Golden Gate bridge, a billion-dollar undertaking which its would-be cutter says could be paid for by raising tolls. One participant proposes to eliminate all domestic violence programs (and runs an anti-feminist blog apparently dedicated to the repeal of the Violence Against Women Act) -- that would save $3.1 billion over five years. Another wants to cut a light rail project in Charlotte, NC, but the $2.8 billion ascribed to that project includes state as well as federal costs. Federal funding for that was only $30 million last year. So just by looking closely at the two biggest suggestions, that $14 billion becomes $8 billion.

But this project should continue, because it will provide provide participants with an education in the actual insignificance of domestic discretionary spending, of which "pork" is a small part, in the bigger context of war, reconstruction, and tax cuts. Eventually participants will grasp the truth of what budget expert Stan Collender writes this week in his National Journal column:

President Bush either is wrong, mistaken, or misleading: The significant additional federal spending because of Hurricane Katrina absolutely will not be offset with cuts to other programs.

There are two reasons. First, there isn?t enough ?unnecessary? spending or waste, fraud, and abuse in the budget to pay for the federal costs of Katrina, which are now expected to total at least $200 billion in fiscal 2006 alone. That may be hard to believe in a budget that will approach $2.6 trillion next year. But when you subtract those things the White House will not want to cut -- Social Security, interest on the debt, most other federal mandatory spending, the Pentagon, the costs of activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, homeland security and foreign aid -- there is only about $500 billion left to be scrutinized. Completely offsetting Katrina-related costs would mean that all other programs would have to be cut by about 40 percent, a ridiculous notion under virtually any circumstances.

[Domestic discretionary spending] has been the part of the budget where the Bush administration has focused most of its attention since 2001 and undoubtedly is where, in a perfect world, it would like to make more changes. But cuts like this would have a disastrous impact on the day-to-day activities of virtually every domestic federal department and agency; some would have to cease operations completely.

A report from the Center on Budget and Policy priorities adds some context. The Center points out that, even if Katrina reconstruction costs $200 billion over five years, federal spending over that period will average 20.1% of gross domestic product, lower than in any year from 1975 to 1996.

It is revenues, however, that are completely out of line with historic norms. At 17.2% of GDP, tax receipts over the next five years will be much lower than in any year from 1977 through 2002.

The gap is the deficit. Anyone who wants to reduce the deficit should start by looking at what's unusual, what's changed that turned the surplus into a deficit. That's probably the place to start. And it's not spending.

That leaves the question, do we need to offset the spending for Gulf Coast reconstruction? In theory, of course not. That's exactly the kind of project that one runs deficits for -- a crisis, a major capital investment, an undertaking that will yield economic benefits into the future. But it is exactly the reason that one doesn't want to run massive deficits routinely in good economic times. It makes it all the more painful when you do have an emergency or a recession. It is the deficit that pre-existed Katrina -- projected at $4.5 trillion over the period 2006-2015 -- that we need to be concerned about and that will take a toll on our economy.

There's lot of other good stuff at the Center on Budget site today, including a paper showing that just the two tax cuts that are scheduled to go into effect in January, and that benefit almost exclusively the very wealthy (97% of benefits go to households with incomes over $200,000), would cost $146 billion over ten years. How about that as a place to start paying for reconstruction? Also, a good breakdown of the demographics of people affected by Katrina, by poverty, race, lack of vehicle, etc.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on September 19, 2005 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference A Million Here, A Million There:

» One Man's Pork... from Left Center Left
Mark Schmitt has a must-read post about proposals to finance Katrina reconstruction spending with cuts in pork spending. After just a few days, the project has identified over $14 billion in spending that could be cut, a small downpayment on [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 19, 2005 9:22:20 PM

» Suffer the Little Children from Hellblazer
Ye gods. Sometimes I wonder how on earth it is that humans have survived for as long as they have. Still, every once in a while I get that warm feeling in my heart when some group of innocents embark... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 20, 2005 11:57:03 AM

» Pretty soon were talking real money from Cosmic Variance
The number being tossed about for post-Katrina reconstruction is $200 billion. Thats a lot of money, even for a cosmologist. If you spent a dollar per month throughout the entire existence of our observable universe, youd only get up t... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 20, 2005 1:54:03 PM

» Colombian Councilman Arrested in Attack from City Councilman
City Councilman Arrested for Allegedly Planning Guerrilla Attack That Killed 9 [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 27, 2006 4:04:13 AM

» Finding Information on the Internet from Net Search
The University of California Berkeley recommends search strategies, explains search tools, and gives guidance on evaluating and citing web pages... [Read More]

Tracked on May 3, 2006 4:38:46 AM

» Find search engines across the world with Search Engine from World Search
Gain quick, efficient access to search engines from countries around the world with Search Engine Colossus - International Directory of Search Engines. [Read More]

Tracked on May 7, 2006 10:38:41 PM

» Job Search from Directory with Free People Search
Perform a quick job search using Job Bank USA's powerful job search engine. ... Thank you for using Job Bank USA's employment search services and job search ... [Read More]

Tracked on May 8, 2006 10:51:46 AM

» USA Search Engine Optimization from Advanced Search | US
Directory of USA (USA) search engine optimization (seo) and marketing professionals for web sites, internet development and viral marketing campaigns. [Read More]

Tracked on May 8, 2006 11:43:03 AM

» Suns: We Won't Panic from Clippers in Game
But a quick look at Phoenix's recent playoff history suggests otherwise. 'Actually all our second games have been like this,' coach Mike D'Antoni [Read More]

Tracked on May 16, 2006 9:09:04 AM

» The Man Who Could Stop Hillary....Al Gore? from Gore presidential
presidential run stop Hillary in her tracks? Other notes from the political world. [Read More]

Tracked on May 18, 2006 3:15:34 PM

» Каталог Google - World > Russian from Каталог интернет-ресурсов
Справка по Каталог Искать в Блоги Поиск в Интернете ... Russian > Компьютеры > Интернет > В сети > Блоги, На главную страницу Каталога: [русский] [English] ... [Read More]

Tracked on May 20, 2006 11:24:53 AM

» Search in Directory: christian conference from Directory Map
Directory of hundreds of search engines, organised by country and topic. [Read More]

Tracked on May 25, 2006 7:30:05 AM

» Die Schweizer Suchmaschine from dir.pogovorim.com
Suchmaschine fr die Schweiz mit regionaler Volltextsuche (im domain und in weiteren Sites mit... [Read More]

Tracked on May 28, 2006 12:35:46 AM

» Cambridge Dictionaries Online: christian conference from online dictonary
Free online dictionary from Cambridge University Press [Read More]

Tracked on May 28, 2006 1:31:12 AM

» A History of Wiretapping from are being tracked.
the government of their grievances. What is disturbing is to think that this right wing government is using the acquired information to further [Read More]

Tracked on May 28, 2006 11:14:18 AM

» News Online from JapanHorse
Features weekly articles, archives to past issues, and timelines of scientific importance. [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 2, 2006 9:14:58 PM

» MIA/NJ Pre-Game Thoughts from Wednesday night,
in Game 1, the Nets just ran all over the Heat, tearing them apart, Jefferson was the key component in my opinion of that game besides Vince [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 18, 2006 8:51:37 AM

» States and Capitals from All USA States
State information resource links to state homepage, symbols, flags, maps, constitutions, ... All Rights Reserved. Press Ctrl - D to bookmark this page. ... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 17, 2006 9:26:37 AM

» USA towns: Baldwin from USA MAP
USA - cities, towns and villages of the United States. Extensive business listings, community info, coupons and classified ads for USA cities, ... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 21, 2006 6:11:44 PM

» Medical Dictionary from Bestbarrel
Searchable dictionary created by Dr. ALFRED. [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 24, 2006 10:35:22 AM

» Dell Shares Plunge on Lowered 2Q Outlook from shares plunge
shares plunge to their lowest level in nearly 5 years on lowered 2Q outlook [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 24, 2006 5:07:18 PM

» ALL Themes from Invision Power Board
He has set up a test blog so you can check it out - it’s great work. ... Note to all theme authors: In order to be considered for the competition, ... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 24, 2006 5:51:27 PM

» london reinsurance from People searching
Searchable keywords online... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 31, 2006 5:55:01 PM

» Handbags from handbags - Offers for handbags - exporters, manufacturers ...
handbags supplier directory - over 3000000 registered importers and exporters. handbags suppliers from China and around the world, handbags, .. [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 3, 2006 10:35:15 AM

» clinique from clinique: Read reviews and compare prices
Shop our selection of Clinique fragrances and cosmetics online. ... Search results for "clinique". Item 1 to 10 out of 580 Show all, sorted by Popularity ... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 4, 2006 4:34:02 PM

» How Harvard's Brightest Helped Pioneer GIS, Contributing to a New Mapping Technology from ESRI Book Tells
ESRI Book Tells the Story of the Historic GIS Connection to Harvard University [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 7, 2006 8:26:03 PM

» Ru-Энциклопедия from Words 2005-2006
Most Popular Words from Internet... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 16, 2006 2:40:48 PM


And of course "foreign aid" doesn't really belong on Collender's list either. It's significantly smaller than the other things listed, far far less than people tend to think. Even otherwise astute budget experts.

Posted by: Doug | Sep 20, 2005 9:33:16 AM

Hawk that I am, I've always thought most of the pork was in the defense segment. What's the best kind of missile? One with a piece made in every congressional district, whose purpose is so classified no one can quibble with it.

Posted by: Saheli | Sep 20, 2005 5:08:09 PM

"Eventually participants will grasp the truth"

I seriously doubt it. I've been hearing people talk about balancing the budget by cutting foreign aid since Reagan was in office.

Although if you count the cost of the Iraq War as "foreign aid," the idea isn't as preposterous as it used to be.

Posted by: Billlmon | Sep 22, 2005 12:38:19 AM

Why not undo the $350 billion dollar tax cut that was enacted at the beginning of Bushs' first term? 90% of that cut went to the richest 1% of the electorate-- it could be rolled back at very little political cost. Even Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are supportive of the idea.

Posted by: global yokel | Sep 22, 2005 1:49:03 PM