Starving the Census in the House GOP Budget: Penny Wise, And Dumb


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House Ways and Means chair Paul Ryan’s budget proposal drew plaudits from some observers who didn’t notice its fundamental weakness: its utter failure to specify which tax “loopholes” it would close to pay for deficit reduction. As we’ve noted in the past, Ryan has a good reason not to disclose details on the tax side of his plan: they don’t add up. CTJ has shown that the Ryan plan’s promised top income tax rate of 25 percent would be insufficient to pay for federal spending at Reagan-era levels, let alone the current decade. 

Now, as details of Ryan’s plan emerge, it’s becoming clearer that its spending cuts are equally illusory, relying on alleged cost-saving measures that would likely cost more in the long term than they help right now. Case in point: Ryan’s plan to eviscerate the Census Bureau and eliminate its American Community Survey (ACS), an annual survey that provides a rapid-response supplement to the decennial Census.

As Businessweek notes, cuts to Census budgets in the past decade prevented Congress and the Obama administration from being able to quickly diagnose the scope of the financial sector’s collapse in 2007.  One expert observed, “The government saved $8 million, but how many trillions were lost as a result of not being able to see the crisis coming?”

Ironically, as the New York Times explains, the ACS itself was actually created as a sensible cost-cutting strategy, designed to provide more timely data than the decennial Census could.  Even the US Chamber of Commerce has vocally opposed further cuts to Census funding because it helps businesses large and small to inform their planning.  Which is why top conservative policy think tanks support the ACS, too.

An adequately funded Census Bureau is the best vehicle we have for finding a path to sustained economic growth for all of us; there is widespread agreement that without its data, we will be flying blind.

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