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Central Coast officials blast GOP budget cuts

  • February 28, 2011

By Paul Barton
Gannett News Service

As Congress threatens to slash federal spending for many key domestic programs over the remainder of fiscal year 2011, Salinas-area officials have just one response: The timing couldn't be worse.

They say the cuts would compound the effects of high jobless figures lingering from the recession and California making stinging state budget cuts at the same time.

"The timing of these cuts would definitely set back the economic recovery," said Ken Jacobs, head of the Labor Research and Education Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

Conservatives counter that while federal budget cuts may cause hardship in the short run, they signal to the private sector that Washington finally is serious about getting its finances in order and will spur more vigorous job growth.

A lot of the complaining is nothing but demagoguery, contends Brian Riedl, an expert on federal spending with the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The Republican-controlled House passed a budget measure two weeks ago that would cut more than $60 billion from federal spending for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year.

"Only in Washington is cutting 1.6 percent of spending considered outrageous," Riedl said. "Returning these programs to 2008 spending levels would still leave them well above their historical-average spending levels. If lawmakers cannot reduce $61 billion, how will we ever close the $1.4 trillion deficit?"

House Republicans and Senate Democrats may reach agreement this week on something that keeps the government running past March 4, the expiration date for the current budget agreement. But local officials remain aware that arguments over how and where to restrain federal spending remain far from over.

Probably no 17th Congressional District institution follows the budget debate more closely than Salud Para La Gente, a rural health clinic near Watsonville in Santa Cruz County.
If some of the recent cuts passed by the Republican-controlled House -- especially those to defund the 2010 health care effort -- become law, the clinic could lose up to $1.15 million, plus the chance to recruit more young physicians under the National Health Service Corps program. Already six of its 30 providers came to it through that program.

A large portion of the $1.15 million at risk was going to help the clinic branch out and establish a new facility near Live Oak. Another was to expand available services, especially related to vision care and women's health.

Such developments would be among the "devastating circumstances," Sara Clarenbach, spokesman for the clinic, said in an interview. "It's really unfortunate."

Mohammad Qayoumi, a president in the California State University system (at Cal State East Bay), which includes California State University, at
Monterey Bay, knows the feeling.

Of the system's 412,000 students, more than 140,000 get federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants. And the majority of them have to hold down a job because of their financial situations.

"We've really been an institution of access," Qayoumi said.
The university president views the GOP-led effort to cut Pell Grants as shortsighted, saying it will result in fewer students' getting their degrees and graduating into the kinds of careers where they can become significant taxpayers.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank, 1.042 million California college students would lose Pell Grant funding if the Republican plan became law, a cut of $621 million to the state for the current fiscal year.

Elliott Robinson, director of Social and Employment Services for Monterey County, said he regards proposed cuts in workforce-training programs to be equally shortsighted, especially when the area struggles with an unemployment rate near 16.5 percent. The county would lose almost $7 million.

"These funds are a resource we use to help people who are out of work," Robinson said. They are especially important, he said, for the unemployed who can't qualify for welfare and for high school students considered "at-risk."

Why cut such a program "when there are a number of (other) ways you can get the deficit under control?" Robinson said.

U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, said it's all a reflection of a Tea Party mentality within Republican ranks, which he characterized as despising government programs just for being government programs.

Many of the 87 GOP freshmen arrived "ranting and raving that everything that's wrong with America is because of government. The longer they are here, the more they will be a little bit more responsible and realize there are some great things that government does."

Further, the Republican drive to cut spending concentrates on domestic programs and ignores the 75 percent of the budget that includes Medicare,
Medicaid, Social Security, interest on the national debt and the military, Farr said.

"You have to do it wisely," Farr said. "You can't reduce the debt unless you go into the other 75 percent."

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