Buck budget proposals would do little to limit ‘out-of-control spending’

The Durango Herald published an interview Saturday with Colorado GOP candidate for U.S. Senate Ken Buck, asking him in part how he would propose trimming the federal budget. Buck said he’s running for office primarily because, as he put it, “the overwhelming fear of individuals in this state is the out-of-control spending and regulation coming out of Washington, D.C.” So what would Buck do to address those overwhelming fears?

DH: What should be cut in the federal budget?

Buck: The National Endowment for the Arts. The National Endowment for Humanities. Subsidies for many programs — we’ve got to look at privatizing some programs. We’ve got to look at departments like the Department of Education and ask really what they should be doing and what we need to return to local control. The Department of Energy’s mission was to make America less reliant on foreign energy. That mission was set in 1977. We’re more reliant on foreign energy than we were before. So we’ve got to evaluate whether agencies and departments are really doing the job that we’ve set out for them.

The problem is that cutting the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities doesn’t do much to the federal budget. The NEA had a $167.5 million budget for FY 2010, and President Obama requested $161 million for NEH. Put together, that’s $328.5 million out of a $3.7 trillion budget, or 0.0089 percent of the federal budget (and 0.023 percent of the federal budget deficit for FY 2010).

Buck clarifies on what he said about the Department of Education. (His opponent, Jane Norton, said to a group of Tea Partiers in Alamosa that the Department should be completely cut.)

DH: Your GOP opponent has set, ‘Let’s abolish the Department of Education.’ It sounds like you’re not going that far.

Buck: I’m not willing to turn the lights off on Day One. We got into this mess over 60 years, and we’re not going to get out of this mess in the first 10 days of the next Congress. I think it is important to evaluate in a responsible way how we return more educational control to local governments. At some point, if we don’t need to spend federal money on education, that would be great, but we’ve got to transition in a responsible way.

But, hypothetically, say the Department of Education and the Department of Energy were abolished, with discretionary budgets of $49.7 billion and $28.4 billion, respectively. That’s only 2 percent of the budget, or 5 percent of the deficit for FY 2010.

The Herald asked about the military budget.

DH: All the programs you’ve just named fall under the discretionary budget. … Even if you knocked that all out, you’d still have a multi-trillion-dollar federal budget, and the parts that are growing most are outside the discretionary budget. How would you handle that (in terms of) military and welfare programs?

Buck: As Iraq winds down, I think the military budget will become a less significant part of the overall budget. We’ve obviously got a commitment in Afghanistan. We’ve got to figure out what the goals are there and what we can do there. So there may be less need in two or three years than there is now. I think it’s still important that we promote research and development in the military budget, but some of the costs of deploying troops may be significantly reduced in the next few years. But the entitlement area of the budget is just an area where I think you’ve got to call the actuaries in and you’ve got to figure out how exactly we are a country are able to deal with that burden. I think a lot of things will be on the table to discuss, but it’s impossible sitting here in Denver to make those choices, until I hear the testimony of the experts in terms of what the different plans are.

The military is already shifting resources from Iraq to Afghanistan. For FY 2010, Afghanistan cost $110 billion, while Iraq cost about $66 billion. For FY 2011, Afghanistan is projected to cost $117 billion and Iraq will be $46 billion. USA Today reported that costs per troop in Afghanistan will be about double what they were in Iraq in 2005. The number of servicemembers in Afghanistan is set to rise to 102,000 from 87,000, and Iraq’s will fall from 47,000 to 43,000.

But Iraq and Afghanistan aside, to say the military budget will become less significant over time doesn’t square with Buck’s desire to slow other areas of spending. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the military budget — excluding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — will fall a marginal $4 billion to a total of $530 billion in 2013 but rise to $575 billion in 2020 and to $605 billion in 2028. The only way the military budget will become a less significant part of the overall budget is if spending increases elsewhere.

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Luke Johnson

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