Why Austerity Fails When the Cuts Get Specific

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. (Wikimedia Commons)

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. (Wikimedia Commons)

It’s one thing to support spending cuts in vague terms. It’s another thing to support specific cuts to tangible investments and public services. House Republicans enthusiastically supported severe — but vague — austerity in the Ryan budget. But on July 31, they refused to support the specific cuts required by that same budget.

Specifically, Republican leaders had to pull their spending bill for transportation and housing programs from the House floor, once it was clear that it lacked enough support to pass. That bill had to make deep cuts to infrastructure and affordable housing to fit within the Ryan budget’s low spending limit. When House members saw what those cuts would actually look like, they refused to support the bill.

My new report at Center for American Progress explains why the cuts in the House’s transportation and housing bill would be a disaster if they were every allowed to become law. Remember, these cuts were a sincere attempt by Ryan budget supporters to find the lowest-hanging fruit left to cut:

  • The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant program was eliminated completely, increasing the maintenance backlog for roads and bridges and reducing investment in projects to ship goods to market more efficiently.

  • The Federal Aviation Administration’s facilities and equipment account was cut by 21 percent from the pre-sequester level for fiscal year 2013, undermining the nation’s air traffic control system and the vital NextGen modernization.

  • Amtrak funding was cut by one-third at a time when our rail network desperately needs maintenance and upgrades.

  • Community Development Block Grants were cut by one-third—after the bill was amended to partially reverse an even deeper cut—abandoning neighborhoods across the country instead of revitalizing them into economic engines.

  • Capital investment in public housing was cut by 20 percent, and the largest affordable housing block grant was cut by 40 percent to its lowest level ever, placing a growing number of families at risk of homelessness.

  • Grants for lead removal were cut by 58 percent, leaving more children susceptible to lead poisoning in their homes and creating a lifetime of consequences for both the victims and society at large.

The full report with endnotes and citations is available here.

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