Less taxpayer money for U.N., none for NPR among cuts proposed by co-chairs of Obama commission

Jon Ward Contributor
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Among the $200 billion in spending cuts recommended — when the co-chairs of President Obama’s deficit commission dropped their draft proposal out of nowhere into an unsuspecting post-election political scene on Wednesday — are some very politically charged items.

Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson proposed cutting the U.S. taxpayer’s contribution to the United Nations, an organization which many conservatives and moderates see as anti-U.S. and anti-Israel. The draft proposal recommends reducing the “voluntary” funds that taxpayers dish out to the U.N. each year on top of the dues that each country pays.

The U.S. in the 2009 fiscal year paid $2.7 billion in dues to the U.N., and an additional $3.6 billion in voluntary funds. Bowles, a former White House chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, and Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, suggest cutting the voluntary funds by $300 million a year. It’s likely less than many would like to see that number cut, but it is a first hack at what many on the left and no doubt at the U.N. itself see as a sacred cow.

A spokesman for Obama’s ambassador to the U.N., Secretary Susan Rice, did not return a request for comment.

Also included in the report is a recommendation to eliminate government funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, whose “primary job is to fund [National Public Radio] and its member stations … and PBS and its member stations.”

Coming on the heels of the recent uproar over NPR’s firing of Juan Williams for comments they deemed insensitive, and the threats by many Republicans to defund the station, this proposed cut is also significant. Though NPR does not depend in any way solely on CPB for funding, an elimination of CPB funding would nonetheless hurt NPR.

CPB released a statement that said they “strongly disagree” with the proposal, and that “this important investment … should be supported for the benefit, education and enrichment of all Americans.”

“The federal investment represents an average of 15 percent of funding for the more than 1,100 public radio and television stations around the country, and stations use this investment to raise funds from the communities they serve. In some cases, especially in rural and low-income areas, public broadcasting serves as a lifeline of content, information and services to the community,” the CPB statement read.

One cut that would hit a broad cross section of Americans is a cut in funding to the Smithsonian and National Park Service. The reduction of funding for the Smithsonian by $225 million would require a charge of $7.50 to visit the 19 museums and the National Zoo, which are currently free. A cut of $75 million to the National Park Service would require a visitor fee to national parks of 25 cents per visitor.

While those are three of the most headline-grabbing cuts included in the Bowles/Simpson report, which has not been voted on by the 18 commission members and has no binding or legal power over Congress, the full list of spending reductions is a cornucopia of inflammatory recommendations, at least for the groups, agencies or organizations whose interests are at stake.

Yet the outcry is likely just a foreshadowing of how acrimonious American politics is likely to become in the near future and over the next several years, as the government grapples with how to close an annual deficit and national debt that could significantly diminish the nation if it is not addressed.

There are 38 itemized cuts or reductions proposed on the domestic side, with an additional 19 items in defense. The cuts add up to $100.2 billion in domestic savings, and $100.1 billion in defense savings.

Among other cuts, the report advises the following in or by 2015:

  • hiring two new federal government workers for every three who leave, reducing the federal workforce by 10 percent by 2020 and saving $13.2 billion
  • slow the rate of growth in the federal government travel budget, which has risen from $9 billion in fiscal 2001 to $14 billion in fiscal 2006, by $400 million a year
  • cut the rate of growth in the federal government’s vehicle fleet – which is currently at 652,000 cars at a cost of $4 billion annually – saving $300 million a year
  • merging the Department of Commerce and Small Business administration and cutting its budget by 10 percent, saving $100 million a year
  • slowing the growth of foreign aid – which has grown from $17 billion to $32 billion since 2008 – by reducing the increase between now and 2015 from $14 billion to $9.4 billion
  • selling excess federal property, which is currently estimated at 14,000 building and structures out of a total of 1.2 million government buildings, structures and land parcels (there are 55,000 under- or not-utilized properties)
  • freezing non-combat military pay at 2011 levels for three years, saving $9.2 billion
  • the elimination of a number of planned military expenditures on new weapons, including planes and ground equipment, for a combined reduction in procurement of 15 percent, or $20 billion

The Bowles/Simpson report was not intended to be released Wednesday, sources on the commission told The Daily Caller. But at a meeting with members and staff Wednesday, some argued that the report should be released instead of letting it leak.

Read the full report here, and the full list of proposed spending cuts here.

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