House GOP proposal to cut D.C. budget stands little chance of passage
The proposal by a group of House Republican conservatives to cut annual federal spending by at least $100 billion got wide attention Thursday, including from District denizens concerned that the city's budget is on the chopping block.
Included in a laundry list of proposed cuts released by the Republican Study Committee was the elimination of "General Assistance to District of Columbia" for a projected annual savings of $210 million. The line caught the eye of Washington City Paper's Loose Lips blog, which quoted D.C. budget official Eric Goulet saying the cuts would have a "catastrophic effect" on the city.
So what exactly is the RSC proposing to cut?
An aide to the conservative group pointed D.C. Wire to a tome everyone has handy -- the Congressional Budget Office's "Budget Options, Volume 2," published in August 2009. The document is designed to provide members of Congress with "options for altering federal spending and revenues." The CBO is a nonpartisan body and is not endorsing any of the suggestions, merely laying them out.
The source of the RSC's proposal is on page 164 of the document, under the heading "Eliminate General Fiscal Assistance to the District of Columbia." The idea would be to eliminate federal funding for the District that was not included in the 1997 National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act.
Specifically, the CBO writes, "In 2009, such general assistance totals $202 million: $35 million in tuition support for city residents; $54 million for school improvements and scholarships; $20 million for education reform; $54 million for general assistance that includes payments for laboratory facilities, libraries, and the water and sewer authority; and $39 million for emergency planning and security."
For fiscal 2011, the numbers are a bit higher, which seems to explain where the RSC got the $210 million number. Notably, the proposal would not cut the nearly $250 million the federal government currently provides to the District to fund its courts and prisons, nor would it cut federal outlays that pay the lion's share of its Medicaid costs and cover some of the city's pension obligations.
The RSC proposal's impact on the D.C. area would be felt in other ways. The group also suggests cutting the federal government's subsidy to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, for an annual savings of $150 million, which would add significantly to the system's financial woes.
But do these proposed cuts stand much chance of becoming law? Probably not.
First, the spending proposal unveiled Thursday does not represent the views of the House Republican leadership, or the consensus opinion of the full GOP Conference. It only has the backing of the RSC, and notably, the group isn't actually endorsing every cut on the list. RSC officials made clear Thursday that they were simply presenting a broad list of suggestions and that the whole group didn't necessarily endorse any of the ideas.
Second, it's worth noting that the RSC has been proposing a broad array of spending cuts for several years, most of which never end up becoming law or even making it into legislation endorsed by the party leadership. The group regularly offers its own full-fledged budget proposal, separate from the official House Republican proposal, that has never gotten a majority of House votes.
Third, and most important, Democrats still control the Senate and the White House and would look askance at any proposal that seriously undermined the District's financial position.
Given the ballooning federal deficit and the emphasis placed on spending cuts by the new House GOP majority, it's certainly possible that the D.C. budget could end up getting squeezed. But there's no reason at this point to believe that the RSC's proposal this week would be signed into law.
| January 21, 2011; 1:52 PM ET
Categories: Ben Pershing, Budget, City Finances, Congressional Oversight
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