The original online headline to Wednesday's New York Times budget legislation story, "Finance Bill, Nearing Senate Passage, Would Protect Some Favored Programs," likely captured what reporters Jonathan Weisman and Annie Lowrey really wanted to say, betraying their big-government default favoritism: "Plan That Would Spare Vital Programs Is Expected to Pass Senate."
"Vital" by whose measurement? The article is peppered with similarly loaded liberal language marking "the worst" cuts, and making the Keynesian argument that any reduction in spending would "inhibit long-term economic growth."
The worst of the federal cuts to a major infant nutrition program would be reversed. Embassy security and construction could be spared in the wake of the consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya. And child care subsidies, once seen as critical to the success of welfare reform, would take a haircut, not the hammer blow that President Obama once loudly warned was coming.
With the expected Senate passage this week of broad legislation to finance the federal government through Sept. 30, a lucky few programs will be spared the brunt of the automatic spending cuts now coursing through the federal government. Also, managers in some departments, especially the Defense Department, will gain more flexibility to carry out cuts.
The bill is a mixed blessing for President Obama and others, especially Democrats, who hope Congress will eventually reverse the recent cuts. The changes make the cuts less arbitrary and damaging in the eyes of many independent experts. They reduce the effect on programs that touch national security, child health and welfare, but they inhibit long-term economic growth, through science funding and other areas.
But the new continuing resolution might have a political impact beyond the numbers: It could reduce some of the most obvious disruptions in federal services, potentially easing the pressure that Mr. Obama had hoped would soften Republican opposition to a replacement that combined spending cuts with tax increases.
That means lower employment levels and slower growth this year, public and private forecasters have said. Rather than rearranging the cuts across the budget, Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, has recommended holding them back until the still-sluggish recovery takes stronger hold. “Besides having adverse effects on jobs and incomes, a slower recovery would lead to less actual deficit reduction in the short run,” Mr. Bernanke said last month.
Republican senators, some of whom have cheered on the “sequestration” cuts, spent Tuesday jostling for last-minute votes on their priorities. The new package of cuts cleared its biggest procedural hurdle Monday night, with a 63-to-35 vote to end debate, but failed to win approval Tuesday.
With the changes, the Agriculture Department’s nutrition program for woman, infants and children would receive an additional $250 million under the Senate bill, enough to serve 300,000 more people. That sum would help offset a $333 million sequester cut that the program must absorb over the next six months.
The remaining cuts could still hurt, but officials involved in the program are holding off final decisions until Congress acts.
Lowrey previously fretted about the "$85 billion in spending cuts intended to be so painful and stupid that they would never come into effect," that so far have been hardly noticed on the national level.