The next couple months will be consumed with discussion about the Catfood Commission II, and their efforts to reach a $1.5 trillion or higher deficit package. This will frustrate any attempt to pivot to jobs. But as long as that’s known, activists and organizations can point out best practices on that committee while trying to force the conversation in a different direction. One way to do that is to consistently point out that job creation is the best and most robust way to ensure any deficit reduction, and that reducing the deficit with 9% unemployment is a near-impossibility. Another way is to point out how much deficit savings can be gained merely by engaging in the vitally necessary actions of protecting the earth from climate change. A transpartisan coalition called Green Scissors released a report today showing that $380 billion in savings over five years can be achieved by “curbing wasteful spending that harms the environment.”
Green Scissors 2011 is being released by four organizations: progressive environmental group Friends of the Earth, deficit hawk Taxpayers for Common Sense, consumer watchdog Public Citizen and free-market think tank The Heartland Institute. (For reactions from current and former U.S. House members from both political parties, please see below list of statements.)
“While all four groups have different missions, histories, goals and ideas about the role of government,” the groups write in the report, “we all agree that we can begin to overcome our nation’s budgetary and environmental woes by tackling spending that is not only wasteful but environmentally harmful.”
The groups propose cutting many fossil fuel, nuclear and alternative energy subsidies. Other targets include massive giveaways of publicly owned timber, poorly conceived road projects and a bevy of questionable Army Corps of Engineers water projects.
The report was endorsed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and former conservative Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC). The “former” in front of Inglis’ title shows what a heavy lift this will be in the tea party Congress. But it’s really a common-sense proposal, which includes canceling subsidies like $39 billion for ethanol and tens of billions for the oil and gas industry, but also hundreds of billions from ending Last In, First Out Accounting. The coalition would cut almost $50 billion in pure giveaways to the nuclear industry, including liability insurance that puts the taxpayer on the ultimate hook for any accidents. And I found the section on crop insurance interesting:
Crop insurance is quickly becoming the most expensive type of agricultural subsidy, nearly outstripping the cost of all other farm subsidy programs combined. While called “insurance,” it doesn’t operate like any form of insurance most Americans have bought. In most places, federal taxpayers pay 100 percent of the premiums for the farm’s basic catastrophic coverage while providing subsidies for additional coverage resulting in an average of 60 percent of the premium cost for private crop insurance being covered by taxpayers.
The crop insurance program is dominated by corn, cotton, soybeans and wheat, which account for about 80 percent of the subsidies provided by the program, with corn taking the lion’s share. The larger the farm, the larger the potential payout; the Congressional Research Service estimates that the biggest agricultural producers (over $1 million in sales) account for about 30 percent of the subsidy. Unlike other agriculture subsidies, there are few strings attached, so crop insurance will cover marginal land, which is often more environmentally sensitive. By guaranteeing some return, it provides an incentive to plant where odds of success are slim, but the likelihood of environmental harm is great. In addition, in 2008 the Agriculture Department lowered crop insurance costs for genetically engineered corn, particularly herbicide tolerant varieties such as Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” corn. Such varieties encourage more intensive herbicide use; as weeds become resistant, they can trigger a dangerous cycle of ever increasing chemical use.
This costs taxpayers $30 billion over five years.
Most of what Green Scissors is going after is corporate welfare. This happens to be in the energy and agriculture sectors, but it’s broadly evident elsewhere as well. “Free market” types don’t want a free market in the industries they favor; if there were one, we wouldn’t have a deficit problem, and we would have a clear and healthier planet to boot.