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Raising the Debt Ceiling

Cuts you can count on

David Gura Jul 29, 2011
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Jeremy Hobson: OK so what about this debt ceiling fight? Now that the Republican plan that passed the House today has been voted down by the Senate, the focus turns to a Democratic plan that was unveiled this week by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The two plans are different, but both would raise the ceiling in exchange for deep spending cuts.

And as Marketplace’s David Gura reports, we already know what some of those cuts are.


David Gura: Both plans call for tens of billions in cuts, so lots of departments are going to get less money. Gary Burtless is a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Gary Burtless: Obviously, anything that was funded as part of the stimulus program has a very bleak future.

That means turning down the spigot at the Energy Department and the National Institutes of Health. Goodbye to all those infrastructure projects. There’s bipartisan agreement to cut federal financial aid for students. Beyond that, specifics are hard to come by.

Alex Brill: How exactly those spending cuts are implemented, where the dollars are found, is something that is absolutely yet to be determined.

That’s Alex Brill; he used to be the House Ways and Means Committee’s chief economist. What’s on the table is domestic discretionary spending: education, housing, transportation.

Paul Weinstein directs the public management program at Johns Hopkins. He says many agencies are in familiar territory; they’re under the knife year after fiscal year.

Paul Weinstein: Commerce always feels that way. Energy often feels that way, because a lot of people don’t always understand what those programs do or what they’re about.

Weinstein says the U.S. could cut back on contractors. It could keep government salaries frozen. But it’ll be up to Congress to decide. And as always, Alex Brill says:

Brill: One man’s waste is another man’s critical program.

The cuts will start out small, spelling trouble for some agencies. But over time, they’re expected to grow and that could mean the end for some programs.

I’m David Gura for Marketplace.

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