A rioter stands atop a burning car as another man pours fuel onto the fire while Baltimore firefighters behind them fight fires in mutliple burning buildings set ablaze by rioters during clashes in Baltimore, Md., April 27, 2015.
Photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters

GOP picks a bad time to cut urban renewal

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) hosted a weekly Capitol Hill press conference and offered his first extended remarks on developments in Baltimore. The Republican leader, true to form, made clear at the outset that he does not believe “more taxpayer money” will help.
Boehner added that, as far as he’s concerned, “well-intentioned programs designed to help people get out of poverty” are “not working.”
And with this position in mind, Politico reported yesterday that House Republicans are pushing “new cuts from urban programs this week,” coming against a backdrop of a major American city dealing with an ongoing crisis.
Caught most in the middle is a $55.3 billion housing and transportation measure that is fast becoming the new ground zero in the appropriations wars this summer and a symbol of Washington’s retreat from public investments in poor urban neighborhoods like Baltimore’s.
The federal lead-hazard-abatement program? Republicans cut it by a third. Capital funds to maintain public housing? Slashed in half as compared to the Bush/Cheney era. Choice Neighborhood grants? President Obama requested $250 million. House Republicans intend to spend $20 million, which is just a quarter of what Congress approved for the program just last year.
But, GOP lawmakers will say, they just don’t have much of a choice – there are strict spending caps in place, forcing lawmakers to make deep cuts to domestic priorities.
As David Rogers’ report makes clear, these are the exact same lawmakers who voted to add tens of billions of dollars in Defense spending by looking for shortcuts around those same arbitrary spending caps: “Most simply, Republicans are proposing two sets of rules, one for defense and the other for domestic appropriations. And the resulting cuts resonate more now given the proximity of the crisis down the road in Baltimore.”
One assumes GOP leaders would defend the move by stressing how important the military is, but therein lies the point: the nation’s struggling urban areas are important, too. Lawmakers willing to go out of their way to ignore spending caps to advance one priority can’t argue persuasively that they have no choice but to slash efforts at urban renewal at the exact same time.
All of this, of course, coincides with the House vote on the new Republican budget blueprint, which the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; Robert Greenstein described as “one of the most radical budget plans that lawmakers have adopted since they created the modern budget process in 1974.” From his analysis:
The agreement imposes the large majority of its budget cuts on programs for low- and modest-income Americans, even though such programs constitute less than one-fourth of federal spending. The plan would cause tens of millions of people to become uninsured or underinsured, cut support for working-poor families, and make it harder for millions of modest-income students to afford college.
The plan would likely weaken long-term economic growth by slashing funding for areas like education, research, and infrastructure that help promote growth. It would reduce opportunity by making college less affordable for students of modest means. It would increase poverty due to its deep cuts in health, nutrition, and other supports for the least fortunate Americans. And it would widen inequality that’s already at or near its highest levels in nearly a century.
This plan passed the House yesterday on a 226-197 vote.
It’s true that budget blueprints are more of a guide than a set-in-stone plan, though Ed Kilgore added, “[B]efore you brush the whole thing off as a nothing-burger, remember that this bill is a pretty good example of what we can expect to actually happen if Republicans hang onto control of Congress and win the White House next year.”