GOP 'Sunset Caucus': Spending On Stimulus, Climate Change, and Sesame Street Is 'Unnecessary'

June 18, 2009 10:17 am ET — Matt Finkelstein

While the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats work to tackle real-world challenges like health care reform and the energy crisis, it appears many House Republicans are content starting new clubs for playing the same old political games.

Yesterday, the Republican Study Committee unveiled the Sunset Caucus, a new group designed to shrink the size of government "one wasteful, duplicative, or unnecessary program at a time." According to a press release, the name refers to a lesser known definition of "sunset" meaning "to provide for the permanent elimination, de-funding, or repeal of a federal program, agency, or department."

Reps. Kevin Brady and Jason Chaffetz will co-chair the caucus, which has 42 initial members. Among them is Rep. Michele Bachmann, who explained, "As a member of the Sunset Caucus, I will select some program or agency that has outlived its usefulness, duplicates other government programs or that Congress never had any business creating in the first place." Members will publicly advocate for the repeal or de-funding of their targeted programs and introduce appropriations amendments and legislation to do so.  

Based on a preliminary list of targets, however, it seems the caucus is more interested in sticking it to the Obama administration -- and progressives in general -- than eliminating truly unnecessary programs. For example, the very first program listed is "the unspent portion of the Economic Stimulus Package." In other words, the Sunset Caucus' top priority is to undo President Obama's biggest legislative achievement before it's had an opportunity to take full effect. Or, put another way, they see our economic recovery as "unnecessary." Other political targets include:

AmeriCorps:

Calling on Americans to volunteer, President Barack Obama signed a $5.7 billion national service bill Tuesday that triples the size of the AmeriCorps service program over the next eight years and expands ways for students to earn money for college. [...]

Bolstering voluntary public service programs has been a priority of Obama, who credits his work as a community organizer in his early 20s for giving him direction in life. The president cited his work in Chicago as an example of how one person can make a difference.

Amtrak:

Obama has been an adamant supporter of train travel, putting into the stimulus package a separate $8 billion fund for high-speed rail lines around the country. And Biden -- dubbed "Amtrak's number one customer" by Jo Strang, acting federal railroad administrator -- has made his frequent train travel a key part of his political persona.

International Panel on Climate Change:

The scientific consensus is clearly expressed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Programme, IPCC's purpose is to evaluate the state of climate science as a basis for informed policy action, primarily on the basis of peer-reviewed and published scientific literature (3). In its most recent assessment, IPCC states unequivocally that the consensus of scientific opinion is that Earth's climate is being affected by human activities: "Human activities ... are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents ... that absorb or scatter radiant energy. ... [M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations" [p. 21 in (4)].

Payments to Palau to take Gitmo Detainees:

The United States has won an agreement to transfer up to 17 Chinese Muslims from the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to Palau, a sparsely populated archipelago in the North Pacific, according to a statement released by Palau to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The agreement opens the door to the largest single transfer of Guantánamo prisoners and is the first major deal on detainees since President Obama pledged soon after taking office in January to close the prison within a year.

It also gives Mr. Obama some relief on an issue that has become a political hot button among Congressional Republicans and even some Democrats, who have noisily protested against releasing what they call potentially dangerous extremists on American soil or transferring them to prisons in the United States.

Corporation for Public Broadcasting:

A House subcommittee voted yesterday to sharply reduce the federal government's financial support for public broadcasting, including eliminating taxpayer funds that help underwrite such popular children's educational programs as "Sesame Street," "Reading Rainbow," "Arthur" and "Postcards From Buster." [...]

PBS, in particular, drew harsh criticism in December from the Bush administration for a "Postcards From Buster" episode in which Buster, an animated rabbit, "visited" two families in Vermont headed by lesbians.

On a related note, Rep. Lamar Smith recently created the "Media Fairness Caucus," making the Sunset Caucus the second Republican group to pop up in the last few weeks. Appearing on Fox News, Smith made the bogus statement that his new caucus was necessary because liberal media "bias" is "the greatest threat to America."

So, while the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats work to tackle real-world challenges like health care reform and the energy crisis, it appears many House Republicans are content starting new clubs for playing the same old political games. 

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