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Bachmann proposes $423 billion in federal budget cuts

Rep. Michele Bachmann
MinnPost/Raoul Benavides
Rep. Michele Bachmann

WASHINGTON — Rep. Michele Bachmann has outlined an estimated $423 billion in potential federal budget cuts that, on the surface, seem simple, but in practice serve as an object lesson in how tough it’ll be for Congress to make any meaningful budget cuts over the next few years.

Bachmann’s plan outlined Monday contains several cuts that have been on the conservative docket for years: Eliminating all or most of the Education Department, slashing farm subsidies, privatizing several government agencies and cutting foreign aid.

It’s a little too early to assess the potential impact of her proposal, as many details have yet to be disclosed and members we talked with hadn’t reviewed it yet. A few Democrats and Republicans have outlined spending cut proposals, and more are expected (including official party-backed plans) following President Obama’s budget presentation in February. Bachmann’s office said her move was simply one to stimulate discussion, and one she hopes other members will emulate.

But setting aside the arguments about whether or not any or all of these cuts are good policy (not something I’m going into in this article), the politics of passing something like this are immensely challenging because every single cut can be traced directly back to a spending beneficiary who stands to specifically lose out if the cut gets passed.

What it means, in simple terms, is that to make serious cuts to the federal budget overall, each lawmaker will have to swallow cuts to their district directly.

Take, for example, two relatively small cuts Bachmann would make to the transportation budget.

The first, eliminating the Essential Air Service Program, could result in the decline in or elimination of three Delta Airlines routes between Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport (MSP) and small airports in Chisholm-Hibbing, International Falls and Thief River Falls. A combined $5.5 million in federal dollars guarantees air service for two years and reduces airfares on those routes.

EAS was a program developed in the late 1970s to ensure that rural communities (more than 75 miles from a larger airport) had affordable access air service. About half the money goes to Alaska (in place of the roads that simply can’t be built between many towns there), while the rest goes to rural communities like the three in Minnesota.

MSP is the hub airport for EAS routes to and from Fort Dodge, Iowa; Mason City, Iowa; Escanaba, Mich.; Iron Mountain, Mich.; Devils Lake, N.D.; Jamestown, N.D.; and Watertown, S.D. 

Mesaba Airlines, an Eagan-based subsidiary of Pinnacle Corp. that operates as Delta Connection, would see several cuts to routes nationally. A Delta spokesman did not return calls seeking comment, but Mesaba and Pinnacle officials said (and EAS records show) the company would lose tens of millions of dollars from a cut of that magnitude.

Privatizing Amtrak, an idea that comes up every now and then, could affect rail service on the Empire Builder line should a private firm not deem it viable. As is, the Empire Builder that runs from Chicago through the Twin Cities and west to the Pacific isn’t a money-maker, so cuts would be inevitable.

Those cuts could hit stations with existing service in Winona, Red Wing, the Twin Cities, St. Cloud, Staples, Detroit Lakes and just-across-the-border stations in La Crosse, Wis.; Fargo and Grand Forks, N.D. Amtrak also reaches dozens of other towns via connecting bus services, which could also be affected.

And those two cuts alone show the most obvious political difficulty: Literally every Minnesota congressional district (including her own) would see a service cut under Bachmann’s plan, and that’s only looking at the direct impact of two relatively small-impact cuts.

The NIMBY dilemma
The dilemma for Republicans, whose takeover of the House can be traced directly back to promises to rein in spending, is that they’ll have to not just support cuts but actually propose them and be first to vote in favor of them. That’s because spending bills are required to start in the House, which the GOP holds control over.

Freshman Republican Chip Cravaack said he’s mindful of the need for cuts generally, noting that the U.S. national debt recently passed the $14 trillion mark.

“The bottom line is, we just don’t have the money,” he said. “We have to do the right thing, make the right decisions for the right reasons for our children and our grandchildren. That’s why I came to Congress.”

Cravaack, a former airline pilot with Northwest (since bought by Delta) and whose district includes two of those airports, said late Monday he’d just heard about Bachmann’s plan less than a minute before I asked him about it. As such, he said he’d have to look at it in depth before deciding to back or oppose it.

Rep. Erik Paulsen, in whose district Mesaba is based, didn’t endorse or reject Bachmann’s plan either. “Rep. Paulsen appreciates Rep. Bachmann’s efforts to continue the conversation on getting our fiscal House in order,” spokesman Tom Erickson said in a statement. “He’ll review Rep. Bachmann’s plan in the coming days to see how they, as well as other members of Congress, can work together to reduce government spending and institute policies that will create jobs for Minnesotans and all Americans.”

Specific proposals to cut large chunks of money have often had difficulty attracting much support.

Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, head of the House Budget Committee, released one such specific proposal in the 111th Congress directed at entitlement programs like Social Security. His cuts were so unpopular on the Hill that most GOP lawmakers distanced themselves from them. Democrats are still attacking any Republican who shows signs of coming close to supporting them – I got several such press releases on that subject just this week.

However, Republicans have lined Ryan up as the official State of the Union response speaker and in that response he’s expected to call for additional federal austerity measures. So it’s possible, reading into that a little, that GOP leaders have thawed to his ideas.

Bachmann’s office did not give specifics on many of her cuts, including whether agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration or Transportation Security Administration would be eliminated wholesale or reduced to a solely regulatory role. She also declined to discuss timelines – most bills have a six-month implementation window, though larger ones can be one year or more.

“This is a discussion draft for getting possible cuts on the table,” Bachmann spokesman Doug Sachtleben said. “We would look forward to working with the various committees of jurisdiction on the specifics each proposal and releasing details at that time.

Bachmann’s hope, Sachtleben said, is that other members will issue specific cut recommendations in the future, then use those plans as a jumping-off point for specific legislation.

“Everyone’s going to have to make sacrifices,” he said.

Update: Apologies for not posting this originally, but here’s a link to her specific proposals, along with monetary estimates. Given the lack of details on when cuts will be made and to what degree, I haven’t been able to independently verify those monetary estimates, so they’re only from Bachmann’s office at this point. -DW

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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 01/25/2011 - 10:59 am.

    OK, now if other news media sources will just loudly trumpet exactly how these cuts are most likely to effect the citizens of their regions…

    to make it clear to people what they have to lose by the Republicans’ continuous desire to punish and further impoverish the poor and middle class while enabling the fabulously wealthy to avoid taxes and extract ever more of the proceeds of our nation’s economy – money that should be going into the pockets of the middle and lower classes into their own pockets…

    perhaps it will become clearer to those who are not completely blinded by their dysfunctional ideological view of shat “must” be true (all facts and evidence to the contrary notwithstanding), what it is they’ve accomplished in the last election.

    Despite their catchy-sounding, VERY patriotic demagoguery, the people you’ve elected are NOT your friends, nor are they the friends of our nation or “the general welfare” of its citizens.

  2. Submitted by John Olson on 01/25/2011 - 11:03 am.

    Is there a link to see what she is proposing, or is this just an “off-the-cuff” remark?

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/25/2011 - 11:19 am.

    We should be closely watching the UK. They recently enacted “austerity measures” which the Conservatives said would reduce the deficit and spark the economy and Labor said would cause further slow down in the economy.

    As of this morning, it is reported that the UK GDP declined a “surprising” 0.5% in the fourth quarter.

    Not much of a surprise to the Labor party.

    Shouldn’t there be a worry and a lesson to the Republicans in that data point?

    No, facts don’t matter.

  4. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 01/25/2011 - 11:20 am.

    I wouldn’t be opposed to all the cuts described here since cuts probably have to be made. However, I don’t want to see any tax cuts. For the feds and the state, the road to a balanced budget seems to include both cuts and tax increases. I’d like to see Bachman’s farm subsidy cut.

  5. Submitted by Nila Ouska on 01/25/2011 - 11:58 am.

    Why isn’t anyone listening to Colin Powell, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he says spending in the defense budget (about 50% of the total budget)should be on the table? Cutting spending in that area could go a long way to decreasing that deficit.

    We spend more money on defense that any other country in the planet.

    Instead Bachmann wants to all but eliminate our future (Education.

    This country is really undergoing a moral crisis and it’s not the crisis’ the “right wing moral majority” is focusing on at all , i.e. gay marriage, etc. etc. It’s more about greed than anything.

  6. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 01/25/2011 - 12:02 pm.

    The more people know about and understand the effects of these cuts in the federal budget the more they will oppose them. One reason the opposition to health care reform is fading is that people are beginning to realize how it benefits them. Many are easy to understand–like allowing your children to stay on your insurance until they’re 26, or preventing insurance companies from denying, or cutting off, insurance for an ailment or pre-condition.
    I predict that by 2012, this shift is going to get stronger.

  7. Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 01/25/2011 - 12:15 pm.

    And the military budget? Any cuts there? No bloat, waste, out-dated programs or efforts? Not one?

    Really, the military is to be fed ever-increasing truckloads of cash while we consider trashing things far more important (sorry, Hibbing et al) that essential air service?

    Any budget proposal that does not begin to control the massive cost of the military is bogus.

    I’m not some peacenik who wants to end the DOD. But even just flat-funding defense for a couple years would be a start. A 1% or 2% cut, as in below 2010 in constant dollars, would be even better.

    The military is essential, but not every program, weapon and base within the military is sacrosanct!

  8. Submitted by Brad Robinson on 01/25/2011 - 12:38 pm.

    Greg,
    Agreed. It’s always easier to cut “the other guy.” Until you get cut, everything else is okay.

    By the way, when the recovery finally comes, guess who will get the first dollar: the wealthy, or the poor and middle class?

  9. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 01/25/2011 - 12:45 pm.

    Getting rid of the farm subsidies and the department of education is something that many folks might get behind. Beside cash, I cannot imagine that the federal bureaucracy does much for education in MN.

    Farm subsidies go overwhelmingly to large corporate farms engaged in monoculture agriculture. I understand that Bachmann even gets some of that cash herself from her husband’s family farm in Wisconsin.

    I would love to see votes on these measures and watch fiscal hawks on both sides of the aisle squirm as their major campaign contributors raise a ruckus about the value of their particular federal spending.

    In a different post, the sugar lobby of the Red River Valley was exposed protecting us from the evils of cheap foreign sugar from Haiti!

  10. Submitted by Tim Brausen on 01/25/2011 - 12:48 pm.

    When Rep. Bachman suggests slicing the US military budget of 2/3 Trillion dollars, with it’s over 1000 overseas military installations, then I will believe that she and the Republicans are serious about budget reductions. Until then, it’s symbolic cost-cutting, usually on the backs of those that most need our help.

  11. Submitted by Eric T on 01/25/2011 - 01:03 pm.

    Greg, I think your comment is very one-sided. A lot of what Bachmann saids is crazy, but I’m not sure that this aspect of the spending cut is to, as you put it, “punish and further impoverish the poor and middle class while enabling the fabulously wealthy to avoid taxes”.

    We do have to face the fact that the US and Minnesota is in lots of debt. We can’t pay for all the things we want. We should talk about how we can reduce debt, and not automatically criticize any cost cutting as taking money from the pockets of the poor. We need to have an honest discussion. What the Bachmann spokesman said about having other members of congress offer specifics on budget cuts makes sense.

    Automatically rejecting what Bachmann saids will take away from legitimate criticism for the crazy things that she does say. The specific aspect of the budget cut written here isn’t so off the wall.

  12. Submitted by Nathan Roisen on 01/25/2011 - 01:09 pm.

    There seems to be a perception out there that an overwhelming majority of government spending goes towards studies of dust moth habitat, bridges to nowhere, and the like. Cutting government can’t be THAT difficult, just get rid of the superfluous stuff that benefits no one, sack a few pencil-pushing bureaucrats, and voila, we will be sailing the smooth waters of prosperity.

    The reality is, of course, very different, and I appreciate the complexity that this article brings to light.

    Take away government services, and voters will notice, whether they benefit directly or indirectly from government spending…how many jobs have been created through the construction of government buildings? How many steel suppliers and concrete factories are humming because of road building and repair? How many people that participate in the economy – shopping at stores, consuming entertainment, and so forth – earn their paycheck administering government programs? How many people’s parents or grandparents derive their fixed income and medical care from social security? How many well-paid and well-educated engineers serve the military-industrial complex? (One of my college friends works for Lockheed-Martin on the F-22 fighter jet, railing against Obama on one hand for decreasing the size of the program, and for increasing federal spending precipitously on the other. Hypocrisy)

    I think that both sides of the aisle have been deficient in laying out a nuanced view of the problems that the federal debt causes, but the Tea Party, has been the most disingenuous. By painting government spending as the culprit – the thing that separates us from prosperity, safety, and freedom – they make a caricature of the federal government and its spending. A reasonable discussion about the role and scope of federal spending becomes impossible, because ALL OF IT IS BAD!*

    *Except for that which directly benefits me or my family

  13. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 01/25/2011 - 02:40 pm.

    It seems MB is the forever object of score from the left.

    If she does not propose budget cuts, it is just rhetoric.
    If she does propose budget cuts, it is attacking the poor.

    Thank-you Michelle, for proposing cuts to the entrenched, big government, special interests that dominate the federal budget.

    I will anxiously await specific spending cuts proposed by the democrats.

  14. Submitted by Eric T on 01/25/2011 - 03:35 pm.

    I was hoping there would be an example of my previous comment, and Ron Gotzman came through.

    If people criticize Bachmann automatically like Greg did, and use the “think of the poor” argument for all criticism on Bachmann, then it makes legitimate criticism less valid, and Ron is pointing to that.

    I liked what Nathan said – appreciate the complexity of funding cuts, and also appreciate how debt levels are unsustainable. As criticism for the liberals, “think of the poor and the children” isn’t enough of an reason for ignoring unsustainable debt.

  15. Submitted by Randall Bachman on 01/25/2011 - 07:54 pm.

    Glad to see she’s in favor of cutting farm subsidies that her family has benefitted from. Now what about oil and gas, fishing, and a myriad of tax loopholes for the rich?

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