The U.S. Congress at Work: A Reminder
Under the many appropriations and regulatory bills thus far passed by the House and Senate
(though not yet sent to the President's desk for his signature or veto), many social and
environmental programs have been targeted for elimination or reduction. In many cases,
these budget-cutting measures are the result of efforts to implement the Republican
manifesto, the Contract with America. Whether you voted in support of a candidate wielding
the Contract last fall, voted against it, or didn't really care, you should still be aware of what
the Republican-controlled Congress has planned for our future. Here, in no particular order,
are a number of programs relating to human welfare that have been addressed recently by
Congress. All of the following have been approved by either the full Senate or the House of
These are only a few of the many programs that Congress has deemed wasteful. In their
stead, it is claimed, will be a reduced budget deficit and, eventually, reduced taxes. But
Congress is far from even-handed in its tactics to reduce Federal spending. Despite the need
to reduce the budget deficit, and regardless of the deep cuts into social programs that it has
passed, Congress is planning appropriations to the Department of Defense beyond even what
the Pentagon itself believes is necessary. Two examples are proposed funding for additional
B-2 bombers, at a cost of roughly $1 billion each, despite the 20 such planes that are under
construction or that already exist (though they have never been used), and the resurrection of
the "Star Wars" strategic missile defense system with $300 million in start-up funds allocated
by the Senate (the Administration estimates that the completed system will cost $48 billion).
These programs are pure Congressional pandering to the defense industry -- political pork
with little or no social or military value in the post-cold war period, and in any case not cost
effective given the lack of current need for such military technology and the oft-stated
Congressional goal of reducing the budget deficit.
- Federal aid to public schools, particularly those serving large numbers of low-income
families, will be cut by 17 percent, or about $1 billion.
- The President's program for setting educational standards for public schools will be
- The Head Start program, for pre-school-age children of low-income families, will be
cut by about $130 million.
- The Federal program to provide summer employment to youths (projected to create
600,000 jobs next summer) will be abolished.
- Federal funds for job training will be cut by more than 30 percent.
- The Federal program to help the poor pay their heating and cooling bills (remember
the more than 400 deaths in Chicago during this summer's heat wave) will be
- The Environmental Protection Agency's budget will be cut by more than 30 percent,
eliminating its ability to enforce clean water and clean air standards and reducing or
eliminating regulation of cancer-causing substances in processed foods.
- The Department of Energy's program to issue standards for energy efficiency in home
appliances (standards which save consumers money and reduce pollution) will be
- Public housing programs will be cut by about 25 percent.
- The food stamp program will be reduced by almost $2 billion.
- Federal assistance for Amtrak and municipal mass transit systems will be cut by $600
million, the first step towards abolishing Federal support for public transportation.
- Federal funding for legal services (another program that helps those with low
incomes) will be cut by more than 25 percent.
- Federal funds for public broadcasting will be cut by 25 percent and funds for the
National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities will be cut by one-third, the
beginning of a total phase-out of funding for these causes.
- No new plants or wildlife will be protected under Federal law. (In addition,
Republicans in the House and Senate hope to pass a bill that reduces or eliminates
protection for all currently endangered species).
- No new lands will be added to the National Park System.
- States will no longer be required to pay for abortions for poor women who become
pregnant due to rape or incest (as the Federal government does not provide money for
abortion services this will leave private sources to fund abortions, effectively ruling
out their availability to poor people).
- States will no longer be required to use Federal funds provided under the President's
crime bill to hire more police officers and develop and implement crime prevention
Think about it this way: for less than the cost of three of the additional B-2 bombers the
Senate desires, the government can continue to provide support for the nation's public school
systems and continue to implement the laws that protect us against unsafe drinking water and
air pollution. Which would you rather have for your children?
If you feel like taking a few minutes to call your Senators and Representatives in
Washington to let them know how you feel about their priorities -- and yours -- you can
reach them directly by calling (202) 224-3121 or (202) 225-3121.
Richard Wallace is a Ph.D. student in environmental policy at Yale.