By now it’s a Republican Party tradition: Every year the party produces a budget that allegedly slashes deficits, but which turns out to contain a trillion-dollar “magic asterisk” — a line that promises huge spending cuts and/or revenue increases, but without explaining where the money is supposed to come from.
But the just-released budgets from the House and Senate majorities break new ground. Each contains not one but two trillion-dollar magic asterisks: one on spending, one on revenue. And that’s actually an understatement. If either budget were to become law, it would leave the federal government several trillion dollars deeper in debt than claimed, and that’s just in the first decade.
You might be tempted to shrug this off, since these budgets will not, in fact, become law. Or you might say that this is what all politicians do. But it isn’t. The modern G.O.P.’s raw fiscal dishonesty…
U.S. Congressman Tom Price, House Budget Committee chairman and lead author of the House budget blueprint, speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)
Revealing their commitment to ravaging critical safety net programs while accommodating corporations and the ultra-wealthy, the Republican-controlled House unveiled on Tuesday a budget proposal (pdf) that would undermine both Social Security and Medicare, repeal the Affordable Care Act, and prioritize tax cuts for the one percent—all while boosting defense spending.
The U.S. Senate, also majority Republican, is expected to introduce similar legislation on Wednesday.
According to news reports, the initial proposals, authored by House Budget Committee chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Senate Budget Committee chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), seek to balance the federal budget over 10 years, without raising taxes. To achieve those goals, the plans are expected to include $5 trillion in cuts to domestic programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Pell grants, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, over the course of the next decade.
It would provide $90 billion in additional war funding—much more than the $51 billion proposed by President Barack Obama—while pushing cuts to renewable energy incentives and climate change programs and repealing parts of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
And, as Sahil Kapur writes for Talking Points Memo, “the budget sets the stage for a showdown next year on Social Security.”
The New York Timesnotes that the proposal “leans heavily on the policy prescriptions that Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin outlined when he was budget chairman”—prescriptions that were blasted at the time as “a path to more adversity.”
Price, like previous Budget Committee chairmen in both parties, is using his proposal to push an aggressive policy agenda that is far broader than a simple focus on spending and deficits. Like the Ryan budgets of previous years, Price sees government as the cause of economic problems in the country and seeks to rein in federal spending — and power — by shifting programs back to state control or eliminating them outright.
For instance, the Budget Committee notes that there are 92 different anti-poverty programs, 17 food aid programs and 22 housing assistance programs. Similar overlaps have been found in federal job-training progams, it says. Price recommends eliminating or reducing many of these programs. The maximum award under Pell grants would be frozen for a decade, helping slow the huge increases in college costs. Regulations required under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial services reform law are also being targeted as needlessly burdensome on the financial services industry and slowing economic growth.
The austere budget plan drew immediate criticism from many corners.
“There should be no compromise from the Democratic minority on any of this,” political analyst Charles Pierce wrote at Esquire. “It should be rejected, root and branch, because it is based on an economic philosophy, and an overall view of the relationship between people and their government, that has failed the country and its people savagely in the past and inevitably will do so again.”
In his breakdown of intra-party budget battles, Dave Johnson of the Campaign for America’s Future noted that despite any splits over specifics, the governing majority has one common desire.
“All of these Republican factions want the government cut back,” Johnson wrote. “None of them care about investing in infrastructure, investing in science, investing in education, expanding health care and safety-net programs for people who need it, or otherwise helping the public.”
Carmel Martin, executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress joined in calling on Congress to reject the proposal.
“Republicans are talking big with respect to tackling income inequality and wage stagnation, but the House budget proposal does not match their rhetoric,” she said. “Rather than creating jobs with investments in infrastructure and education or strengthening health care and nutrition programs to give families a foothold to climb into the middle class, the House majority has once again prioritized big tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations.”
In USA Today on Monday, journalist Nicole Gaudiano reported that Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who may run for president in 2016, plans to fight the GOP budget plan tooth and nail.
Sanders, she wrote, said he wants to take next year’s budget resolution in a “radically different” direction from the one preferred by House and Senate Republicans, declaring: “I’m going to work as hard as I can with other progressive members of the Senate to do everything we can to make sure this budget is not balanced on the backs of working families and low-income Americans.”
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The differences between the four budget proposals recently put forth by President Barack Obama, both Republican-majority houses of the U.S. Congress, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus are “stark,” according to a new analysis—while some provisions in the GOP blueprints “completely miss the mark in responding to what Americans say they want.”
The National Priorities Project (NPP), a non-profit, non-partisan research organization dedicated to making the federal budget process transparent, released Competing Visionson Friday.
The report compares how each budget proposal responds (or not) to the stated policy priorities of the American people, on key issues including jobs, education, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, food assistance, and military spending, as well as proposed strategies for tax reform and deficit reduction.
“Our analysis shows that, in most spending categories, the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the president would do the most to address the priorities voiced by the majority of Americans,” said Jasmine Tucker, research analyst for NPP and author of the report. “In some areas, the House and Senate budget proposals completely miss the mark in responding to what Americans say they want.”
For example, on the issue of taxing the wealthy, according to the NPP analysis:
68 percent of Americans think wealthy households don’t pay enough in taxes.
The Obama budget proposal raises top capital gains tax rate to 28 percent and closes the “trust fund loophole” that allows heirs to avoid taxation, raising $208 billion over 10 years. Places limits on tax deductions for top income earners and implements the Buffett Rule ensuring a minimum tax rate for the wealthy. Places limits on tax deductions for top income earners and ends the “carried interest” loophole that benefits hedge fund managers to raise $17.6 billion over 10 years.
The House budget calls for comprehensive tax reform that would lower tax rates for individuals and families. Closes some special interest tax loopholes but does not specify which ones. Eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax that sets a minimum tax for the wealthy.
The Senate budget contains no proposed changes to the status quo.
The CPC proposal raises tax rates for richest 2 percent (earning more than $250,000 per year) to Clinton-era levels, and taxes capital gains investment earnings at higher rates, yielding $1.4 trillion in additional revenue over 10 years. Places a cap on the value of itemized deductions that mostly benefit the wealthy (raising $566 billion over 10 years) and limits other tax deductions for top income earners.
Similar discrepancies exist on almost every issue.
As Tucker put it: “The differences between the four budget proposals are stark, and all signs indicate a difficult budget battle ahead as lawmakers try to resolve widely different approaches despite clear public opinion in favor of certain policies.”
While 70 percent of Americans oppose cuts to food stamps, the House and Senate budget plans would both cut the program.
While 67 percent say improving the education system in the U.S. should be a top priority for the president and Congress this year, the House and Senate allocate no new funding for education—and in fact the House proposal “freezes the maximum Pell grant award at the same level for the next 10 years, provides financial aid to fewer families, and makes substantial cuts to domestic discretionary spending, including education.”
Overall, the House Republican budget would cut $5 trillion in government spending over the next decade, mostly out of programs that low- and moderate-income Americans need and depend on—and say they support. At the same time, it adds $400 million in defense spending—not in line with public opinion polls—and promises to lower tax rates for wealthy Americans and corporations.
The Senate version follows the same basic outlines.
At a Senate Budget Committee hearing on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also noted the divergence between GOP policies and the priorities of the general public.
“[T]he rich get much richer, and the Republicans think they need more help,” he said. “The middle class and working families of this country become poorer, and the Republicans think we need to cut programs they desperately need. Frankly, those may be the priorities of some of my Republican colleagues in this room, but I do not believe that these are the priorities of the American people.”
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After returning from a two-week recess, the Senate is planning to vote on raising the minimum wage to $10.10 this Wednesday. The bill, called the “Minimum Wage Fairness Act,” needs 60 votes to advance thanks to the de facto GOP filibuster threat. And while in the past we have used this space to outline many of thedifferent benefits of raising the minimum wage to $10.10, in anticipation of this important vote we wanted to go over some of the most important reasons one more time. Here they are:
Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 and indexing it to inflation would raise the wages of 28 million workers by $35 billion. Raising the minimum wage would provide Americans who work hard a better opportunity to get ahead while giving the economy a needed shot in the arm.
In 2013, CEOs made 774 times the pay of minimum wage workers.While the top CEOs made an average of $11.7 million in 2013, full-time workers making the minimum wage took home only $15,080 a year.
One million veterans would benefit from a minimum wage increase.After risking their lives to protect our country, 1 in 10 veterans working in America today are paid wages low enough that they would receive a raise if the minimum wage is raised to $10.10.
Raising the minimum wage will cut government spending on food stamps. Millions of workers earning the minimum wage make so little that they qualify for food stamps (SNAP benefits). This, in effect, amounts to taxpayers subsidizing corporations paying low-wages. Raising wages for low-income workers would actually cut government spending on SNAP by $4.6 billion a year, or $46 billion over the next 10 years, as workers earn enough on their own to no longer rely on the program.
Minimum wage workers are older than you think.Nearly 90 percent of minimum wage workers are 20 years or older. The average minimum wage worker is 35 years old. A higher minimum wage doesn’t just mean more spending money for a teenager, it means greater economic security for the millions of Americans who rely on it as their primary income.
Businesses see the value in increasing the minimum wage.Nearly 60 percent of small business owners recognize that raising the minimum wage would benefit businesses and support raising it. In fact, 82 percent of those surveyed don’t pay any of their workers the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
BOTTOM LINE: Over the next few days, as Senators take to the chamber floor to debate and then vote on this legislation that would help the economy and millions of American workers, they should make sure they keep in mind these vital facts on why the minimum wage should be raised to $10.10. A vote against increasing the minimum wage is quite simply a vote against working Americans.
Do you remember Cory Remsburg? He’s the Army Ranger who received a standing ovation from Congress during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address a few weeks ago.
Applause is nice, especially from such influential people. It sure beats those cuts the Pentagon wants to make to veteran benefits.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is now trying to sell vets on his plan to scale back the number of U.S. troops, as well as what taxpayers are spending on active-duty and retired forces. After he announced his ideas, Hagel brought them straight to a town hall meeting with soldiers at Fort Eustis in Virginia. “There was no applause,” Military.com reported.
Before and After a War, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib
Whenever Washington winds down its wars and our troops become needy veterans, interest in their welfare always flags. Senate Republicans just blocked a comprehensive $21 billion bill that would have beefed up veteran education, health, and other benefits.
About 30 percent of the vets who serve in war zones return from the battlefield with undiagnosed or untreated post-traumatic stress disorder. Some half a million are suffering from it now.
Clearly, Congress and the White House are much better at starting wars than cleaning up after them.
Military debates in Washington generally revolve around the costs of manpower, equipment, and logistics. Finding the money needed to cover the medical bills and pensions of veterans is always harder to squeeze into the federal budget.
The Pentagon only lists 19,000 troops officially wounded by enemy action in Afghanistan and gives them good care. The other hundreds of thousands with mysterious brain or emotional injuries have to prove it. But first they need to succeed in gaining an appointment at the Department of Veterans Affairs — better known as simply the VA — and demonstrating that they were honorably discharged.
That can be tough.
William Dolphin, a Purple Heart Vietnam veteran, is now fighting for that right in federal court. The Army gave him a bad conduct discharge years ago for being AWOL upon confusion over where he was supposed to convalesce after leaving the hospital. He’s been suffering from PTSD for four decades.
If our leaders really want to honor Cory Remsburg, they should stop making people go through what he experienced. It’s time to stop waging unnecessary wars and start taking better care of our wounded warriors.
Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. Follow her on Twitter @ESGreco. OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. OtherWords.org