WaPo: “Biden Administration Warns Of ‘Damaging’ Effects From GOP Budget Plans”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 29, 2023
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WAPO: “BIDEN ADMINISTRATION WARNS OF ‘DAMAGING’ EFFECTS FROM GOP BUDGET PLANS”
KEY EXCERPT: “Flight delays and slower Social Security checks. Cuts to financial aid for the poorest college students. And fewer dollars to help families obtain public housing and child care.
“As Republicans forge ahead this week in their push to slash billions of dollars in federal spending, the Biden administration is warning Congress that a smaller budget could unleash devastating disruptions to government — underscoring how a political battle in Washington could spell real consequences for Americans nationally.”
Tony Romm and Marianna Sotomayor
March 29, 2023
Flight delays and slower Social Security checks. Cuts to financial aid for the poorest college students. And fewer dollars to help families obtain public housing and child care.
As Republicans forge ahead this week in their push to slash billions of dollars in federal spending, the Biden administration is warning Congress that a smaller budget could unleash devastating disruptions to government — underscoring how a political battle in Washington could spell real consequences for Americans nationally.
Since taking over the House, GOP lawmakers have looked to cleave roughly $130 billion from federal agencies and programs in the 2024 fiscal year. Pushing for austerity, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) submitted new demands to President Biden this week, and party lawmakers plan to hold a hearing Wednesday on the country’s fiscal health, hoping to highlight the government’s growing debt, currently at about $31 trillion.
So far, top Republicans have not coalesced around a final set of spending reductions, but they have made a broad commitment to slim down federal health care, science, education and labor programs while leaving defense untouched. In response, the Biden administration has tried to illustrate the stakes for voters’ daily lives.
If funds at the Department of Health and Human Services are cut, for example, it would have less money for its 988 suicide crisis hotline, potentially diminishing its ability to respond, the agency told lawmakers recently. At the Justice Department, officials warned about “significant furloughs” at the FBI and other key law enforcement agencies, including those that focus on intercepting fentanyl, a GOP priority.
Cuts at the Federal Aviation Administration, that agency said, might mean it struggles to retain air traffic controllers, potentially snarling travel. Biden pointed to the threat Monday, tweeting that the GOP approach would mean “passengers at some large airports would face wait times of two hours or more.” Even the federal government’s work to monitor extreme weather might face financial strain: The Commerce Department, which includes the National Weather Service, predicted its ability to issue “accurate weather forecasts” might be hindered with a smaller budget.
Agencies shared the estimates with a key congressional spending panel — the House Appropriations Committee — at the request of Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (Conn.), its top Democrat, who released the details last week. GOP aides largely dismissed the missives as a scare tactic, since Congress is unlikely to impose such blunt, across-the-board cuts.
Yet, DeLauro said, the problem is that the GOP had not yet offered a detailed plan, meaning Democrats have “nothing to go on.”
“I believe that most of my Republican colleagues have no idea of the depth and the level of the cuts we’re talking about,” she said. “More important than the cuts is the consequences in terms of children and families and seniors, national security and veterans.”
Biden earlier this month put forward his own spending blueprint, a $6.9 trillion budget that proposed to expand federal safety net programs and raise taxes on wealthy Americans and some corporations. Republicans unanimously derided it, as Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Tex.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee, continued to craft his party’s proposal.
But Republicans may not have their own blueprint ready until later this spring, further cutting into the time available to hammer out details that can win support among a narrow, fractious majority. Despite the delays, McCarthy still chided Biden on Tuesday. In a letter, he called on the president to sit down with him and discuss spending cuts and other policies, including work requirements on welfare recipients, adding: “Mr. President, simply put: You are on the clock.”
In response, Biden asked Republicans in a letter to “present the American public with your budget plan” before the upcoming Easter recess so that he and McCarthy “can have an in-depth conversation when you return.” The president said this must occur separately from the debt limit, reiterating his belief that Republicans should address the borrowing cap without conditions.
Democrats, however, have tried to focus the attention on the costs of those expected spending cuts. So DeLauro asked each agency to compute the effects of going back to the levels adopted in the 2022 fiscal year. She also asked them to estimate a 22 percent reduction in their funding, since Republicans have signaled they hope to extract $130 billion only from nondefense programs.
In reality, lawmakers would have the latitude to fine tune where, and how much, they trim federal spending, meaning every agency or program is unlikely to see the same reduction. But Democrats still say the answers demonstrate how the GOP’s approach could hamstring some of the government’s most important services.
That includes the provision of federal retirement benefits. Long plagued by massive phone and record backlogs, the Social Security Administration stands to lose its recent $785 million budget boost — and potentially more — if lawmakers parcel out cuts equally across agencies. In a letter to Democrats, the leaders at SSA predicted that cut could result in the closure of its field offices and in furloughs for its workers, creating new lags in disability benefit decisions and retirement claims, according to a copy released last week.
Other cuts could fall hardest on low-income families, the Biden administration said, since many depend on government programs for urgent relief. Public-housing aid, for example, could shrink: In a letter, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said cuts at the level contemplated by Congress could cause significant disruptions to housing vouchers, eliminating funding for up to 640,000 families, in what Democrats describe as a worst-case scenario. About 250,000 people in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program could lose benefits, according to the Agriculture Department. That number could swell to more than 1 million if the cuts are deeper.
“They want to act as if any of these cuts would be so easy to make, and there would be no pain and suffering,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), the top Democrat on the Budget Committee.
For the Education Department, meanwhile, 22 percent cut in funding would “likely reduce” the maximum award it makes in Pell Grants, which are meant for roughly 6.6 million low-income college students. To prevent a shortfall, officials may have to cut benefits by nearly $1,000 while “eliminating Pell Grants altogether for approximately 80,000 students,” the agency said.
And a significant rollback of funds at HHS could have “damaging” effects on federal child-care programs, including perhaps eliminating at least 170,000 slots in the Head Start program for preschool-aged children, according to the agency. Some nursing homes could face inspection delays, the administration added, and tens of thousands of people could lose access to federally funded opioid addiction treatment.
The stakes were on display Tuesday, as HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra testified on Capitol Hill that the agency needed more money, not less, to address the country’s mounting health challenges. At a hearing, he underscored the urgency for a boost to HHS funding in the 2024 fiscal year, citing the need to prepare for the possibility of future pandemics and “the next health crisis.”
Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-Ala.), who leads the spending subcommittee overseeing HHS, opened the hearing with an acknowledgment of the agency’s work — and lawmakers’ support of efforts to combat cancer and ensure the poorest Americans have care.
But Aderholt faulted the administration for requesting more money in 2024, given “expected funding constraints,” later adding: “Hard decisions will have to be made.”