How Did the Fiscal Cliff Deal Turn Out for Children?
In an 11th hour set of furious negotiations, Congress and President Obama reached an agreement on the so-called “fiscal cliff,” a self-imposed set of deadlines that would have resulted in automatic tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts in the absence of a deal.
In many respects, the deal is good news for America’s children and families.
- It raises taxes on the wealthiest Americans (those families making over $450,000 per year, or individuals making over $400,000 per year) and uses the increased revenue to provide many supports for middle- and low-income working families.
- It preserves the middle-class income tax cuts put into place in 2001 under President George W. Bush.
- It also ensures a lower tax bill for more working parents by extending the expansion of two critical tax breaks for taxpayers with children—the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit—particularly to reach larger and lower-income families.
- In addition, it lowers the tax bill for low- and moderate-income families who are helping pay for their children’s college tuition by extending the American Opportunity Tax Credit.
- Finally, the deal extends unemployment insurance benefits to the long-term unemployed, many of whom are parents desperately searching for a job in a still-weak economy.
But as I explained just before the holidays, the fiscal cliff is only the latest hurdle faced by our government in trying to resolve much longer-term debates about how much debt the United States should carry, which revenue and spending policies will best help the economy grow, and whether the United States can sustain the commitments it has made to America’s seniors through Social Security and Medicare.
None of these bigger and more difficult questions have been resolved as part of this deal. In fact, Congress and the President agreed to delay the automatic budget cuts to major federal spending programs for only two months and to delay the question of whether Congress will again raise the country’s debt limit. This means that the President and the Congress, divided by deep ideological differences about how best to spend taxpayer dollars, have again agreed to automatic spending cuts that will take effect in early March, including cuts to some of our most impactful programs for children—Title I funds that aid schools with the most low-income students, federal funding that goes to states to help schools pay for the costs of aiding children with special needs and disabilities, and funding for Head Start to provide critical early education opportunities to our neediest children.
It also means that, at some point soon, Congress and the President will reopen the debate about reforming Social Security and Medicare, our largest entitlement programs. Along with debating those entitlement programs, they are likely to put back on the table possible cuts to Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—programs that provide essential health and food security for millions of America’s children.
So, we may have temporarily rescued our kids from the edge of the cliff. But the political winds continue to push them toward the precipice.