Menus Subscribe Search

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

July 29 • 4:00 PM

Are Children Seeking Refuge Turning More Americans Against Undocumented Immigrants?

A look at Pew Research Center survey data collected in February and July of this year.


July 29 • 2:00 PM

Under Water: The EPA’s Ongoing Struggle to Combat Pollution

Frustration and inaction color efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act.


July 29 • 12:40 PM

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it’s probably in your local river.


July 29 • 12:00 PM

Mining Your Genetic Data for Profit: The Dark Side of Biobanking

One woman’s personal story raises deep questions about the stark limits of current controls in a nascent industry at the very edge of the frontier of humans and technology.


July 29 • 11:23 AM

Where Should You Go to College?


July 29 • 10:29 AM

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.


July 29 • 10:00 AM

The Monolingual American: Why Are Those Outside of the U.S. Encouraging It?

If you are an American trying to learn German in a large German town or city, you will mostly hear English in return, even when you give sprechen your best shot.


July 29 • 8:00 AM

The Elusive Link Between Casinos and Crime

With a study of the impact of Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino, a heated debate gets fresh ammunition.


July 29 • 6:00 AM

What Are the Benefits of Locking Yourself in a Tank and Floating in Room-Temperature Saltwater?

After three sessions in an isolation tank, the answer’s still not quite clear.


July 29 • 4:00 AM

Harry Potter and the Battle Against Bigotry

Kids who identify with the hero of J.K. Rowling’s popular fantasy novels hold more open-minded attitudes toward immigrants and gays.


July 29 • 2:00 AM

Geographic Scale and Talent Migration: Washington, D.C.’s New Silver Line

Around the country, suburbs are fighting with the urban core over jobs and employees.


July 28 • 4:00 PM

Border Fences Make Unequal Neighbors and Enforce Social Inequality

What would it look like if you combined Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, demographically speaking? What about the United States and Guatemala?


July 28 • 2:00 PM

Are Patient Privacy Laws Being Misused to Protect Medical Centers?

A 1996 law known as HIPAA has been cited to scold a mom taking a picture of her son in a hospital, to keep information away from police investigating a possible rape at a nursing home, and to threaten VA whistleblowers.


July 28 • 12:00 PM

Does Internet Addiction Excuse the Death of an Infant?

In Love Child, documentary filmmaker Valerie Veatch explores how virtual worlds encourage us to erase the boundary between digital and real, no matter the consequences.


July 28 • 11:11 AM

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.


July 28 • 10:00 AM

Hell Isn’t for Real

You may have seen pictures of the massive crater in Siberia. It unfortunately—or fortunately—does not lead to the netherworld.


July 28 • 8:00 AM

Why Isn’t Obama More Popular?

It takes a while for people to notice that things are going well, particularly when they’ve been bad for so long.


July 28 • 7:45 AM

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.


July 28 • 6:00 AM

Hams Without Ends and Cats Tied to Trees: How We Create Traditions With Dubious Origins

Does it really matter if the reason for why you give money to newlyweds is based on a skewed version of a story your parents once told you?


July 28 • 4:00 AM

A Belief in ‘Oneness’ Is Equated With Pro-Environment Behavior

New research finds a link between concern for the environment and belief in the concept of universal interconnectedness.


July 25 • 4:00 PM

Flying Blind: The View From 30,000 Feet Puts Everything in Perspective

Next time you find yourself in an airplane, consider keeping your phone turned off and the window open.


July 25 • 2:00 PM

Trophy Scarves: Race, Gender, and the Woman-as-Prop Trope

Social inequality unapologetically laid bare.


July 25 • 1:51 PM

Confusing Population Change With Migration

A lot of population change is baked into a region from migration that happened decades ago.


July 25 • 1:37 PM

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.



Follow us


Subscribe Now

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it's probably in your local river.

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014

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