Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Budget Hawks, Enviro Doves Offer Budget Cuts

• August 24, 2011 • 6:00 PM

As the U.S. Congress prepares to weigh a new round of massive budget cuts mandated by this summer’s deal on the deficit, some odd bedfellows offer a suite of suggestions for saving green by being green.

The Heartland Institute and Friends of the Earth don’t agree on much of anything. Heartland, based in Chicago, is a free-market think tank widely viewed with suspicion by environmentalists. Friends, as its name suggests, is a progressive environmental advocacy group that’s fought for action on climate change. Neither of them, though, can stand the federal government’s flood insurance program.

It spends billions of dollars offering insurance to property owners at rates much kinder than they’d find on the private market. And it encourages the development of watersheds where no one should be living or farming in the first place.

The program is, in short, bad for taxpayers and the environment.

Uncle Sam’s ledger is in fact full of similar initiatives that sit within the overlapping crosshairs of organizations that would otherwise never be caught on the same conference call — green groups, tax hawks and free-market hard-liners. Friends of the Earth, along with Taxpayers for Common Sense, has been compiling a list of such programs for 16 years. Their regular manifesto is called the Green Scissors report.

Wednesday, they released the latest version, produced with the added buy-in of the Heartland Institute and left-leaning consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. And this year, the report carries new significance. Think of it, said Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, as a “memo to the congressional super-committee.”

The groups have identified $380 billion in savings over five years that could come from eliminating subsidies they say are both fiscally and environmentally irresponsible.

“This is a full quarter of the savings the new congressional super-committee has to find, and we do it in less time,” Alexander said on an affable conference call that also included, in addition to all these groups, Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and former Republican Rep. Robert Inglis of South Carolina. “These are common-sense cuts and should represent really the lowest-hanging budget fruit. Outside of the Beltway, these are things people agree don’t make sense.”

And if half of Washington can’t agree on these cuts when the Heartland Institute and Friends of the Earth can, that’s a pretty bad sign.

[class name="dont_print_this"]

Idea Lobby

THE IDEA LOBBY
Miller-McCune's Washington correspondent Emily Badger follows the ideas informing, explaining and influencing government, from the local think tank circuit to academic research that shapes D.C. policy from afar.

[/class]

These targets hold out the intriguing possibility that the country could actually benefit from some well-placed budget cuts — a notion far removed from the idea that every dollar the super-committee comes up with must spell sacrifice for the poor, the elderly or the middle class.

“Cutting spending is not just a way of taking something away,” said Eli Lehrer, vice president of the Heartland Institute, “but can improve the lives of people in the country and bring genuine benefits to the environment.”

Among the subsidies that could be eliminated, many of which require taxpayers to pay the bill for pollution and assume the risk for failure: royalty-free oil and gas leases in federal waters ($53 billion), the corn ethanol tax credit ($6 billion), loan guarantees for nuclear power plant construction ($18.5 billion) and crop insurance ($30 billion).

The report didn’t examine the potential job losses from eliminating any of these programs. But all of the groups insisted the changes would produce a net gain for the economy, in part because removing subsidies for older fossil fuels and technologies would open the door for innovation in new areas.

In the past, the report has had success targeting transportation projects and a credit for SUVs, as well as in prompting some reform of fossil fuel tax credits. Not coincidentally, Ben Schreiber of Friends of the Earth said those successes generally also came during leaner economic times.

The really big-ticket items — oil and gas and agriculture subsidies — have been in the report since its inception. Those subsidies live on anyway, not necessarily because they’re smart policy, but because the groups vested in keeping them alive wield considerable influence in Washington.

“You don’t get Congress to give you a subsidy if you’re some weak, powerless group,” Lehrer said. “The people who get the subsidies are often the biggest, most profitable, most powerful people in the economy. There’s a direct correlation there.”

Schreiber, a climate and energy tax analyst, said the report has always received a positive reception, if not corresponding action.

“The difference this time is that there are stark choices that are going to be made,” he said. “We’re talking about $600 billion in additional cuts for non-discretionary, non-defense spending on top of the $900 billion that have already been made. We’re looking at potential cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, or $600 billion in defense cuts. And so when you have those stark choices, there’s suddenly a lot more appetite to take on the special-interest lobby.”

If nothing else, the Green Scissors collation is setting an example for the kind of partnership of odd bedfellows that’s eluded Washington all year.

“We’ve had plenty of fights with Heartland over many things,” Schreiber said after the conference call. “But to be working together is empowering. It provides an opportunity to really see change.”

Sign up for the free Miller-McCune.com e-newsletter.

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Emily Badger
Emily Badger is a freelance writer living in the Washington, D.C. area who has contributed to The New York Times, International Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor. She previously covered college sports for the Orlando Sentinel and lived and reported in France.

More From Emily Badger

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 24 • 4:00 PM

We Need to Normalize Drug Use in Our Society

After the disastrous misconceptions of the 20th century, we’re returning to the idea that drugs are an ordinary part of life experience and no more cause addiction than do other behaviors. This is rational and welcome.


October 24 • 2:00 PM

A Letter to the Next Attorney General: Fix Presidential Pardons

More than two years ago, a series showed that white applicants were far more likely to receive clemency than comparable applicants who were black. Since then, the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a study, but the pardons system remains unchanged.


October 24 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Middle School Math Teacher?

Noah Davis talks to Vern Williams about what makes middle school—yes, middle school—so great.


October 24 • 10:00 AM

Why DNA Is One of Humanity’s Greatest Inventions

How we’ve co-opted our genetic material to change our world.


October 24 • 8:00 AM

What Do Clowns Think of Clowns?

Three major players weigh in on the current state of the clown.


October 24 • 7:13 AM

There Is No Surge in Illegal Immigration

The overall rate of illegal immigration has actually decreased significantly in the last 10 years. The time is ripe for immigration reform.


October 24 • 6:15 AM

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.


October 24 • 5:00 AM

Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves

New research from the Netherlands finds stories we hear about others help us determine how we’re doing.


October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.


October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


Follow us


Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.