Debt Negotiations Threaten the Nation’s Future
Save lives or save money for the rich? Feed hungry children or subsidize the oil and gas industry? Stop buying ineffective military equipment or stop paying for education and job training? These questions are at the heart of the debate over reducing the federal deficit. It’s time for Congress to speak up on behalf of a balanced approach that makes prudent spending cuts and generates new revenue by asking a little more from those with the most.
Right now, many in Congress are rejecting any increase in federal revenues. Rather, they have embraced only spending cuts, including many that will cause real harm both to vulnerable people and to the economy as a whole. Cuts that would:
Reduce health care for tens of thousands and eliminate thousands of jobs in the health care industry;
Leave thousands of infants and young children hungry, putting their development and education at risk;
Eliminate scholarships for hundreds of thousands of low-income college students.
Deficit reduction fever has produced plans to cut Medicaid that would force states to reduce reimbursements to doctors and hospitals, driving more physicians out of the Medicaid program and surely increasing the number of uninsured as those with no other options are dropped or priced out. A recent study in Oregon confirmed what common sense tells us: when people don’t have Medicaid they go without needed health care. Furthermore, Medicaid cuts will hurt the economy in lost business activity and jobs.
Cost cutters in Congress have a budget plan that would end nutrition benefits for many low-income infants, young children, and moms through the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program next year. Children who don’t reliably get enough food are more likely to be sick, to be hospitalized, and to fall behind in school, harming their development and reducing their ability to contribute to our society and economy. Would we really decide to sentence many of these lower-income children to such a fate?
The same budget plan would also eliminate Pell grants for low-income students, all but ending their ability to go to college. This short-sighted proposal comes at a time when our economy needs 3 million more college graduates than we are currently expected to have by 2018. How can we compete if we don’t give people the tools to work at the jobs of today and tomorrow?
9to5 member Mandie Freyta knows first-hand the benefits of WIC and Pell Grants – and what’s at stake if these programs are slashed. A single mom of four children, she attended college, held down a job and cared for her young children, all at the same time. Without the Pell Grant that helped her earn her dual B.A and the well-rounded nutrition that WIC provided her kids, she would never have made it where she is. Today, she’s in graduate school and working full time while her children are thriving and in elementary and preschool. Mandie is just one of many who are able to push to the next level with the help of federal scholarships and nutrition programs.
We don’t have to hurt people now and short change our future if we look for common sense revenue solutions. Taxes are at their lowest share of the economy since 1950. President Ronald Reagan’s budget chief David Stockman points out that taxing capital gains at the same level as earned income would both raise tens of billions and strengthen our economy by improving business decisions. Closing tax loopholes for corporations sheltering profits overseas, eliminating subsidies for oil, gas and coal industries, and taxing hedge fund managers’ income as income instead of capital gains are three other proposals out of many that could increase federal revenues by billions a year without burdening middle class Americans. Hundreds of billions in savings are possible by reducing excess military spending too.
The federal budget is a moral document and a reflection of our values as a nation. The Congress and the administration should insist on protecting their more vulnerable constituents from bearing the burden of cuts and on raising revenues from those who have enjoyed trillions of dollars in tax breaks. It’s the right thing to do, for today and for our future.
Linda Meric is the Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, a national membership-based organization of low-income women working to improve policies on issues that directly affect them.