A study in contrasts
Obama’s new budget, released today, makes this clear. Although the White House doesn’t advertise this fact in the six-page budget overview it put out this morning, the new budget eliminates nearly all of the cuts that sequestration imposes on the Pentagon. Instead of $500 billion in cuts, Obama proposes only $100 billion, and you have to look closely to spot it (“$200 billion in additional discretionary savings, with equal amounts from defense and nondefense programs”).
Along with the well-advertised cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits, this is something that should appeal to the GOP. “It’s another one of the peace offerings in Obama’s package to Republicans,” Robert Litan, the director of research for Bloomberg Government and a former official of the Office of Management and Budget, told me.
Other discretionary cuts to domestic programs:
Discretionary spending bore the brunt of the sequester cuts and the president kept most of those intact in his own budget. Let's trace a few line items over the next decade to judge the president's priorities.
The National Institutes of Health, which is the font of most of the basic and applied science that leads to medical innovation, would receive about a 2% a year increase over the next decade in its current $31 billion budget—barely enough to keep pace with inflation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does even worse. It would grow from $5.5 billion this year to $6.1 billion in 2023—a cumulative increase of 11% or barely a percentage point increase each year on average. In other words, the president's plan proposes to substantially cut inflation-adjusted spending on prevention, disease monitoring and public health—a foolish long-term strategy if ever there was one if the goal is to reduce healthcare spending in entitlement programs.
The Health Resources and Services Administration, which does everything from promoting primary care to funneling physicians to rural areas, fares only a little better in the budget. It will increase by 21.8%, or about 2% a year on average, to $6.7 billion—again barely keeping pace with inflation.
I get that the reversed of almost all of the defense cuts is a present for the Republicans (and hawkish Democrats.)But if the idea is to get the Democrats to vote for the Grand Bargain because the sequester is so destructive, you'd think they would have reversed those sequester cuts to domestic programs in their budget as well.
I guess the Democrats are supposed to vote for the sequester cuts and the "entitlement" cuts and be content that the Pentagon is completely funded. It's an unusual strategy. I wonder if it will work?