February 13, 2011; Source: Los Angeles Times | We predicted as much: it’s easy for some newly elected Republicans to imagine themselves eyes closed hacking away at the federal budget with a massive cleaver, but cutting some programs might encounter resistance among their own constituents. For example, the $4.4 billion Community Development Block Grant program is very popular among governors, mayors, city council members, and voters in Republican congressional districts as well as Democratic.
The Los Angeles Times tells the story of the dazed and confused Republican congressman, Buck McKeon. As the former mayor of Santa Clarita, Calif., he is all too aware of the utility of $1.7 million in CDBG funds the city uses to repair senior citizens’ homes, build a youth center in a low-income neighborhood, and pay the costs of the city’s “community preservation officer.”
But as a member of the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, McKeon is also supposed to be busily preparing to take an axe to domestic spending programs of all sorts, including CDBG. “I raised six children, and I couldn’t always give them exactly what they wanted,” McKeon told the Times, comparing child rearing to federal domestic budgeting. “We’re going to have to cut things that a lot of us don’t want to cut . . . It’s going to be very tough.”
As a mayor, he would probably want more CDBG, not less. If he were to compromise with President Obama, he would find a way to adjust to a $300 million cut in the CDBG total. But his Republican colleagues on Friday proposed cutting $2.9 billion from CDBG, and the Republican Study Committee has already called for zeroing out the program.
Probably troubling McKeon even more is the genesis of CDBG – it was a key component of President Richard Nixon’s “new federalism” overhaul of many federal government-funding programs. Cutting CDBG will generate a groundswell of opposition not just from nonprofits that use the funds for public services and housing rehabilitation, but from mayors and governors who view members of Congress like McKeon as protecting their shared interests.—Rick Cohen