Immoral Choices in the House GOP Budget

Terrance Heath

Budgets, as Rev. Jim Wallis says, are moral documents. They contain choices that reflect our priorities and define our values. The Republican-led House Budget Committee’s fiscal 2016 budget proposal, “A Balanced Budget For A Stronger America,” is a document full of immoral choices that will have devastating effects on the most vulnerable Americans.

The proposal is short on specifics and covers little new ground. House Budget Committee Chair Tom Price (R-Ga.) previewed the proposal’s focus on balancing the budget, and $5.5 trillion in spending cuts, in a speech at a Heritage Foundation event in January. Most of the rest borrows heavily from the budgets Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) proposed when he was the budget committee chair.

The Affordable Care Act

This week we learned that 16.4 million Americans have gained health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare has reduced the number of uninsured Americans by one-third in just five years, and led to a spike in health care jobs over the past year. It didn’t “bankrupt our nation,” “ruin the economy,” kill the private insurance industry, cost the economy “2.5 million jobs minimum,” bring about “the end of America as you know it,” or fulfill any of conservatives’ embarrassing predictions.

The House Republican budget “repeals Obamacare in its entirety.” The proposal promises “a patient-centered approach to health care reform,” but Republicans still have no alternative or replacement for Obamacare that comes close to what the health reform law has accomplished. Besides, repeal isn’t going to happen as long as the guy it’s nicknamed for is in office.

Medicare And Medicaid

Republicans are still attacking Medicare and Medicaid – health care services for seniors and low-income people. The House Republican budget turns Medicare into a voucher program. As with previous budgets, it’s called “premium support,” but it’s the same voucher Republicans have proposed as a replacement for the longstanding Medicare guarantee. It won’t keep pace with increasing health care costs, and will pass those costs on to the elderly.

The House Republican budget turns Medicaid in to a block grant program that, “grants flexibility to states so the program can better serve those who it is intended to benefit.” Called “State Flexibility Funds” here, block grants are Republicans’ way of gutting Medicaid funding, and then handing what’s left to the states with “no strings attached.” States then use this “flexibility” to trim Medicaid rolls by tightening eligibility requirements, thus freeing up block grant funds for other uses. (For example, a new measure in Arizona requiring Medicaid recipients to be employed would kick 500,000 low-income people off of Medicaid.)

Nutrition Assistance

In previous years, House Republicans voted to cut funding for food stamps by $40 billion over 10 years, while voting to extend farm subsidies for themselves. The House Budget Committee’s fiscal 2016 proposal turns the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) into a “State Flexibility Fund.” As with Medicaid, block grants give states the “flexibility” to increase eligibility requirements, reduce the number of recipients, and free up those federal dollars for other uses.

The Congressional Budget Office this week issued a report that said that if the SNAP program was converted into a block grant, with a 15 percent cut in funding, “average benefits would almost surely decline significantly unless state or private funding made up some or all of the difference.”

Stacy Dean of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told Think Progress that, “There’s no way to achieve that level of savings without cutting benefits to currently eligible people or restricting who is eligible,” because fraud and administrative overhead are already so low for food stamps that targeting them “cannot generate significant savings.”

Military Spending

Republicans claim these cuts, plus many more, are necessary to balance the budget in response to a manufactured “deficit crisis.” Yet the House Republican budget increases defense spending. The House Republican budget cuts spending for programs like SNAP, Medicare, and Medicaid, while using a budgetary sleight of hand to exempt the military from sequestration spending cuts, and shifts tens of billions of dollars to an already bloated Pentagon budget.

The proposal to increase defense spending has sown division in Republican ranks. Defense hawks and budget hawks are squaring over what they perceive as a defining moral choice: smaller government or a strong defense? However, Republicans have already defined themselves by the immoral choices in the House Republican budget. No budget that takes from the poor, the sick, and the elderly, and gives to the Pentagon can be a moral document.

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