Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Worst Cut Is the Deepest

So, presumptive GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney has announced his intention to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, among other things, if he's elected.

Art is for rich people, who don't need funding.
Well, he says "when," not "if," but whatever.

Now, the NEA provides grants that support all kinds of artistic endeavors, from film production to writing workshops to community outreach programs, all designed to encourage and promote American creative works both at home and around the world. What the NEA does is not equivalent to law enforcement or job creation or technological development, and I'm not saying it is. But it's a perfect example of a government-funded program that benefits many, elevates our standing as a nation, and costs very little compared to what it accomplishes.

The NEA's annual budget is roughly $150 million. Presumptive Candidate Romney isn't talking about reducing that amount, maybe as part of across-the-board cuts to meaningfully affect the federal budget. He's talking about eliminating funding. As in, take it to zero while simultaneously cutting taxes. Because that $150 million will totally offset the $86 billion by which he plans to reduce federal tax revenues from wealthy Americans.

Want to hear a fun fact? In 2011, the Department of Defense lost $22 billion. I don't mean they had a couple of really unprofitable bake sales. I mean that, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, they spent $22 billion with no record of where it went or why. That's about 3% of the DOD's entire budget. This is not an outfit you want reconciling your checkbook.
A million dollars for camo thongs?
Sounds right to me.
In other words, the NEA could be funded at its current level until the year 2154 with the money our military misplaced in a single year. Your grandchildren's grandchilren's grandchildren could be applying for grants if the DOD would just look in its sofa cushions for the money it can't account for.

But Mitt's not talking about that money. He's also not talking about pulling funding for these actual in-the-budget projects that clearly are more worthy of preserving than the National Endowment for the Arts:

M1 Abrams tank upgrades. Despite my abhorrence of war, I'm not saying the United States shouldn't maintain a technologically up-to-date defensive force. I am saying that, even though the DOD in a rare burst of fiscal responsibility has recommended suspending tank production until 2017, the latest budget still earmarked $255 million for...tank production. The earmark, by the way, was sponsored by a Michigan congressman whose district benefits greatly from building tanks.

Global AIDS/HIV prevention. An extremely worthy and important activity, which is why the federal budget includes almost $8 billion devoted to research and treatment. So why did the DOD (them again) ask for and receive $8 million of its own for the same purpose? I mean, that would buy a lot more rubbers than we currently have servicemen. Just saying.

The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program. Basically, $38.5 million dollars for the war on drugs. Even the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy has admitted that the time and money this country has thrown at the problem of illegal drug use has accomplished diddly squat. Granted, this expenditure is chicken feed compared to the $1 trillion we've spent over 40 years to ensure that drugs remain dangerous, romantic, and extremely profitable.

Abstinence education programs. That would be $5,000,000 to deny horny teenagers access to useful information about sex.

The East-West Center. Located in Hawaii, this institution seeks to build cooperation among Pacific nations. The State Department, under whose purview the Center falls, finds its existence an unnecessary expense and routinely declines to request funding for it. So how did it get another $5.8 million in the latest budget? It could have something to do with the fact that Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) is the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

These and many other examples of dumb pork-barrel spending can be found in the Pig Book, compiled annually by Citizens Against Government Waste. It's a good read; you should check it out.

You too, Presumptive Candidate Romney. And then maybe you can explain why you don't mention the new $2 million dollar Secret Service office in Lima, Peru, or the $116 million designated to test Israel's military weapons, in the same breath as the NEA when you're talking about trimming the budget.

Or you can keep pretending that the only people who think art is important are Democrats. Are you even going to try to be President of the whole United States? Or just President of People Who Like Tanks?

My election budget consists of one vote. I need to decide how to spend it wisely. Know what I mean?

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