The NREL Budget Smokescreen

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NREL (credit: CBS)

NREL (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti
Rep. Doug Lamborn, from Colorado’s 5th Congressional District, was one of nine Republican Congressmen to sign a letter last week encouraging that all federal funding be cut from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.

The letter claims that NREL hasn’t delivered on its promise of new renewable energy ideas and that the research can be done in the private sector.

It may appear that Lamborn and the other signatories on the letter are on a warpath against renewable energy and are also dedicated to making sure that all federally funded programs deliver true results to taxpayers. But I believe that it’s simply a smokescreen to an entirely different political agenda.

Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle understand that taxpayers want to see cuts in federal spending, but don’t want anything they really like cut. Faced with that dilemma, most Congressional Representatives are simply focusing on the pet projects of the other party, hoping to rally their own political base and to keep the other party busy defending the programs being attacked.

The strategy also helps Congress avoid making cuts to the only parts of the budget that would make any dent in spending, namely entitlements and defense.

If Rep. Doug Lamborn was honestly interested in cutting federal spending or making sure that we the taxpayers were getting what we paid for, he would have more entities to go after than PBS and NREL. In fact, with the U.S. Air Force Academy and Ft. Carson in his district, Rep. Lamborn could help make sure that the money we spend defending our brave soldiers actually goes towards programs that work.

Did you know that JEIDDO, a program that was created five years ago to try to address IED bombs that have killed and injured so many soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, has spent over $17 billion but has yet to deliver any effective solutions?

NREL and PBS have a combined annual budget of less than $1 billion. That means Rep. Lamborn’s top targets for wasteful government spending have actually spent only one third over the last five years than this single failed military research program.

Clearly, this letter about NREL isn’t about finding wasteful spending. What it is about is appealing to a voting base that is not fond of tough love. And that difficulty with tough love is not just with the GOP base, the Democratic base is just as tough love abhorrent.

That’s why most Congressional members talk about cutting wasteful spending, or tapping into new revenue sources that make their bases happy, but don’t really deliver results that will make a great deal of difference to the budget. GOP members go after PBS, NREL and Planned Parenthood and Democratic members go after corporate subsidies, new taxes on the wealthy and the oil and gas industry.

Both parties love to vilify the bastions of the other party’s faithful. But the fact of the matter is that if you accepted all of the extreme ideas from both parties, it wouldn’t be a drop in the bucket compared to real reform of Medicare, Social Security or our Defense department.

It’s easy to blame the parties and Congressional members like Rep Lamborn who are picking on this low hanging fruit, but their strategies only work if voters respond to them. If we tell them to concentrate on the items that will make a significant difference in the budget, they might listen.

However, we can’t act like a torch carrying mob chasing Frankenstein every time they mention we might just have to retire six months later to receive Social Security benefits or that we may have to pay $10 more for our Medicare co-pay.

So while Rep. Lamborn’s most recent attack on a beneficiary of federal funding that isn’t in his district is drawing criticism, it’s not entirely his fault. He and his colleagues must come up with something for us to talk about so we aren’t tempted to actually discuss the budget line items that might make a difference.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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