In less than two months, Republicans will starve the middle class and increase poverty levels again if their budget is passed. They will slash billions of dollars from necessary programs that stabilize our middle class, leaving more people jobless, hungry, and homeless. It does not have to be this way.
This will mark the third year of the self-imposed “sequester,” a series of caps on agency funding designed to be so severe as to require a bigger budget deal. Back in 2013, that deal ultimately failed, leaving us with deep cuts that have hurt the economy and cut essential programs to a bare minimum.
Sequestration has slashed hundreds of billions of dollars from federal agencies, squeezing them to the point of failure. Veterans Affairs cuts have led to longer benefit delays, less health care spending, and delayed construction on cemeteries. Cuts to the IRS have led to unprecedented poor service and ineffective operations.
Democratic members of Congress understand this dire situation, and are working to stop Republicans from cutting these necessary programs. Yesterday, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) joined Representatives Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) in a briefing held at the Capitol Visitor Center calling for the end of GOP budget cuts.
In this appropriations cycle, due to close in only 18 legislative days, the Republicans have shown little willingness to end the budgetary blood bath with any sort of reasonable attempt at a deal. Instead, they have been busy passing horrible agency budgets that have zero chance of actually becoming law.
“It’s clear we have a serious problem,” said Rep. Nita Lowey, the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee. She noted that “the budget process has completely broken down...yet Republican leadership denies the existence of a problem.”
Lowey highlighted some of the particularly cringe-worthy provisions in the Republican proposal, including an Interior budget that endangers water health for 100 million Americans and a HUD bill that fails to include a single dollar in sorely needed crash-prevention technology.
Continuing down this path, Lowey believes we are headed for yet another Continuing Resolution (CR), which will cause “major cuts in programs that create jobs and make a difference in people’s lives.”
Congressman Van Hollen, the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, offered an equally bleak prescription. He highlighted the major economic drag government austerity has had in recent years, costing jobs and economic growth. A CBO report from April estimates the current Republican budget proposal will cut GDP by 0.4 percent in 2016 and 0.6 percent in 2017, eliminating 25 percent of all projected economic growth. In a 2013 letter to Van Hollen, the CBO estimated getting rid of the sequester altogether would create almost 1 million jobs and increase GDP by 0.7 percent in 2014 alone.
Van Hollen advocated President Obama’s push for parity – equal sequestration relief to both defense and non-defense spending. The Republicans have ignored this idea, instead pushing a $38 billion increase to defense spending, while cutting non-defense spending across-the-board. Van Hollen equated this push with calling for a government shutdown.
Budget cuts aren’t just numbers on a page. As Rep. Lee put it, cuts mean more Americans going to bed hungry, without a roof over their head, and without the chance to succeed. It means putting the middle class in the ranks of the poor.
At a time when 49 million Americans are food insecure, including 15.5 million children and 1 in 4 African Americans and Latinos, this budget provides $140 million less in WIC funding than President Obama requested, and slashes SNAP funds. The budget cuts workforce development and job training programs, takes away $375 million from Pell grants, and cuts $1.3 billion in funds to provide health care to low-income women. It consolidates the National Housing Trust Fund into the HOME program, forcing low income and very low income individuals to compete with each other for housing subsidies.
This is at the same time we are spending more on “tax expenditures”, going to tax breaks for hedge fund managers and Big Oil companies, than on Social Security.
The budget also includes over 1,000 partisan policy riders, doing everything from preventing the FDA from researching the health effects of e-cigarettes to removing endangered species protection on grey wolves.
As we head towards yet another government shutdown or crippling continuing resolution, presidential candidates have aired even worse ideas. Jeb Bush, one of the leaders of the pack, is now advocating an additional 10 percent cut to the federal government, which will take a bad situation and make it even worse.
We need to end the sequester and end this self-imposed crisis. We need to invest in the American people, enriching our economy and creating much-needed jobs. Anything less is an insult to the Americans who elected this Congress, who deserve so much more than more of the same.
Emily Foster has contributed to this post.