There are lots of plans to cut pork floating around, though in all likelihood all that will be adopted are token gestures. (When NASA announced Monday that it would be spending $100 billion to send people to the moon, I said: huh? Now? I have since concluded that it was announced so that it could be cut, with great fanfare. But if we're going to go in for gimmicks, why stop there? Why not announce that we're going to spend $500 trillion to send people to Jupiter, and then announce that we're going to realize huge savings by cutting that?) The best start, I think, would be to eliminate these two tax cuts, scheduled to take effect in January. 97% of these tax cuts would go to people making over $200,000 a year, and 54% to people making over a million dollars a year. The savings, over the first ten years that they will be fully in effect, would be $146 billion. This we can do. (The DLC has endorsed this.)
A Republican plan, "Operation Offset", is here (pdf); it proposes savings of about $526 billion over 10 years. As Matt Yglesias points out, the largest chunk of savings comes from Medicaid, which is to say: from denying health coverage to very poor people. Ezra Klein adds that Medicaid is hardly in a position to take these cuts, since a lot of health care for victims of Katrina is being paid for by the very program the Republicans propose to cut. Think Progress has a liberal alternative, focussing on repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans, cutting farm subsidies, and cutting several weapons systems.
You can come up with your own plan using this budget simulator: I almost eliminated the entire federal deficit on my first try, and that despite the fact that I didn't cut the war in Iraq. (Here's why not.)
And then there's Porkbusters: an attempt by bloggers to identify pork ripe for slicing. I really like the idea of this. And I really like Slarti's having gone through the parts of the highway bill that concern Florida. I think this is great. However: there has to be some sort of quality control over the suggestions. For example: Porkbusters currently lists all spending under the Violence Against Women Act as pork. Why? The person who added it to the list explains:
"Since actual help for bona fide victims of domestic violence does not exist anywhere in these programs, why not start with one of the most damaging and money-wasting programs we have in the US? The only people this would negatively affect are those who benefit from VAWA now -- the people and agencies who run these clearly inefficient and counterproductive programs."
Ha ha ha. A joke, right? Wrong.
The Violence Against Women Act provides funding for, among other things, shelters, victim's rights programs, prevention and treatment, law enforcement training (very important; the police often used to be unwilling to respond to domestic violence, both because they thought it was a "family matter" and because domestic quarrels were extremely dangerous for the police. The training programs made a huge difference in getting police to treat domestic violence as a crime like any other.) The idea that "actual help for bona fide victims of domestic violence does not exist anywhere in these programs" is ludicrous. When I worked in shelters, I helped women who had been run over with trucks, slammed headfirst into a concrete wall, stabbed with a knife, stabbed with a fork, stabbed with a variety of other things, thrown at walls, locked in closets, tied up, repeatedly suffocated and then brought round for fun; women with virtually every kind of broken bone you can imagine; women who had suffered permanent brain damage and lost eyes at the hands of their husbands or boyfriends. I also met a boy who had, at the age of four, been diagnosed and treated for chlamydia twice, a three year old girl whose father had told her that if she ever told anyone what he did to her, he would take her into the desert, chop her in pieces, and leave her for the vultures, and various other kids who had lived through things no kid should ever have to go through.
These were families who had nowhere else to go, except for homeless shelters, which are no place for kids, and which, moreover, don't usually have the resources to deal with the aftermath of domestic violence. We did. And we didn't do it by trying to indoctrinate people into our evil feminist ways. I can't speak for all shelters, but all the ones I worked for bent over backwards to avoid anything like that. We did try to convey to the women that they had a right to be treated with respect, but it always seemed to me that the most important thing we could do to convey that was simply to treat them with complete respect: to listen to what they said, and to assume that it was worth taking seriously (which does not mean: to assume it's worth agreeing with); to respect their right to make their own decisions, whether or not we agreed with them; and in general to treat them as persons with dignity, always.
Moreover, every shelter I ever worked with was always full. We always had to turn people away, because there were always more women in need than we could accommodate. This broke my heart. But at least we also had hotlines on which we could offer advice. I have talked four battered women out of killing their husbands on the hotline, and more out of suicide; I have talked women through the process of figuring how to get out; I have been someone a woman could talk to while she was figuring out whether or not to leave, or just a person who would listen to her and not tell her she was crazy. That was my job.
And inefficient? Hardly. Again, maybe there is some shelter out there that doesn't run on a shoestring, but I never found it. Back in 1989, at the height of my shelter earning power, I was making $5.25 an hour, with no benefits. People with Ph.D.s in psychology, if they got the right job, could make as much as, gasp, seven dollars an hour. Also without benefits. And there were people with such Ph.D.s working there: my co-workers were, in general, wildly overqualified and working for next to nothing because they thought it mattered. The houses the shelters I know were in were not luxury palaces, either: the last place I worked at, for instance, was in a converted motel that had been repossessed by the city, and given to us for a dollar. Food was generally donated: Ben and Jerry's gave us ice cream, which was nice, but a lot of the rest of the food got to be deadly dull after about the first month of the same thing: some utterly forgettable soup that no one wanted to buy, for instance, to be eaten day after day after day. Most of us took to bringing in groceries from outside, for everyone, and having big raucous cooking festivals which we paid for out of the aforementioned princely salaries. We also paid for things like: photographing injuries so that the women would have evidence of them if they ever needed it, toys for the kids, and so on. No one ever asked us to; we all just did.
So it angers me to see this listed as "pork". All things considered, I'd rather repeal the Bush tax cuts for the top 1% than say to the woman whose husband ran her over four times, backwards and forwards, with his pickup truck, or the three year old whose father had raped her and then threatened to chop her in pieces and leave her for the vultures, that we, as a nation, can't find it in our hearts to give her a place where she can heal in peace and try to start again.