Deeply Serious Budget Gimmickry.

Via Steve Benen, we see that congressional Republicans have initiated a not-at-all gimmicky initiative called "YouCut," in which you can vote online for which programs you'd like to cut; Republicans will introduce an actual piece of legislation to cut whichever program wins.

Sounds great! Except for one thing. You can't tell them you want to cut, say, defense spending, or farm subsidies, or anything else that Republicans like spending lots of taxpayer dollars on. You have to choose between the following: the presidential election fund, paying federal workers for time spent on union activities, an obscure HUD program that gives grants for a few grad students to study housing, a little corner of welfare spending, and some Community Development Block Grants.

My favorite is the HUD program. According to the website, "At approximately $200,000 in grants per year, terminating this program would save $1 million over five years." Wow! With a federal budget this year of $3.7 trillion, that'll go a long way. In fact, if all the programs on the Republicans' list were eliminated, you would cut a little less than $6 billion -- or less than two-tenths of of 1 percent -- from the federal budget. Looks like we may have this deficit licked.

So why not put the whole budget up to a vote? Well, first of all, because that's not how we do things in a representative system. But the GOP has another reason: When you actually ask people what they want to spend money on, the results don't look too friendly to Republican priorities. Witness this 2005 study from the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, which gave people the opportunity to move federal money around as they liked: "When presented most of the major items in the discretionary federal budget and given the opportunity to modify it, Americans make some dramatic changes. The largest cut by far is to defense spending, which is reduced by nearly one-third, followed by spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, transportation and justice. The largest increases are to reductions in the deficit, various forms of social spending and spending on the environment."

Well, we can't have any of that. But let's get cracking on that $1 million HUD program!

-- Paul Waldman

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