Government Spending

Nicholas Kristof Worries That Budget Cuts Could Lead To John Boehner Being Mauled By a Tiger, Or Something

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Lions and tigers and budget cuts, oh my!

Apparently in response to this genuinely tragic story about several dozen dangerous animals escaping from an Ohio zoo, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof imagines public budget cuts coming back to bite Ohio GOP Rep. and Speaker of the House John Boehner. He tweets:

Imagine John Boehner home in OH, seeing an escaped tiger--and getting a msg that help is unavailable due to govt cutbacks.

Lions and tigers and budget cuts, oh my! Even amongst the you-can't-cut-that! crowd, this is a strange concern. For one thing, Boehner is a something of an odd target for this sort of worst-case-scenario worrying, if only because he's not much of a budget cutter: The cut, cap, and balance plan he supported last summer, for example, exempted three of the federal government's biggest ticket items—Medicare, Social Security, and the war on terror—from its proposed spending caps.

More to the point is that Boehner, as House Speaker, has influence over the federal budget. And the federal budget, despite all the recent crowing about our new age of austerity, has not exactly been subject to deep and debilitating cuts. Quite the opposite. As The Wall Street Journal noted yesterday, the federal government spent $3.6 trillion last year, with $1.298 trillion of it borrowed, setting a single-year spending record and coming in second place on the all-time annual deficit charts.

Now, it's true that the state-level story is somewhat different. Facing at least a $5 billion budget deficit—and probably more like $8 billion—Ohio's Republican Gov. John Kasich cut spending in order to balance the budget without raising taxes. Predictably, his opponents weren't too pleased. But those cuts were focused primarily on reducing and reforming prison and education spending. Nor does it seem that any of the other cuts have dramatically weakened the ability of local authorities to take measures to respond to the zoo escape: According to ABC News, state police have cordoned off a seven square mile area near the zoo and have already shot as many as 25 of the animals—not exactly a response that screams, "Sorry, we'd like to help, but there's this austerity thing so we can't." Neither Boehner nor Kasich seem likely to be subject to budget-cut-related tiger attacks any time soon.