The Congressional leadership’s budget resolution will be released in the coming weeks in response to President Obama’s proposal in January. $4 Trillion in tax dollars are at stake. The resolution is expected to be like the 2015 “Path to Prosperity” drafted by last year’s House Budget Committee Chair, Paul Ryan (R-WI). As a result, there will be a conflict of titanic proportions between congressional Republicans and the President’s allies before and after the April 15 completion deadline.
Whether we provide jobs, health care, food, and education—or instead, tax breaks for the rich and corporate deregulation—has enormous consequences for Detroit. 67 percent—two thirds—of Detroit families are under the poverty line or can’t afford basic needs, according to United Way. Senator Charles Schumer and Senate Democrats held a news conference March 12 “to urge Republicans to roll back harmful cuts that hurt the middle class.” Marge Robinson’s February 25 article in the Chronicle calling for a new “Freedom Budget” is on the mark, but the reality of politics will interfere.
The expected Republican budget—that cuts programs for everyone except the top 1%—would be detrimental to all the progress made by President Obama since the 2008 recession. There have been 60 straight months of private sector job growth—12 million jobs. The unemployment rate has dropped from 10% in 2009 to 5.5%. The deficit has been reduced from 10% of our GDP to 3% in five years. 11 million previously uninsured Americans now have health coverage.
The President’s proposed 2016 budget would keep the progress going. It cuts taxes for the middle class and raises them for the wealthy and big business, sets money aside for infrastructure and job growth, and continues to fund Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. Senator Schumer (D-NY) said, “If the GOP takes this (President’s) budget and sticks it in a drawer, they’ll be making it crystal clear that they’re more interested in helping special interests than middle class families.”
Even though the President has no authority over the budget resolution, he does have the ability to veto spending appropriations that come after it, one by one, to force improvements. A budget means nothing until dollars are spent. He will telegraph his position to Congress with written and verbal presidential statements.
Republicans are using the deficit to justify more cuts, but Ryan’s proposals to amend the tax code will add nearly 100 billion to the deficit, all in unfunded tax cuts to the wealthy and large businesses. Obama has already cut the deficit by two thirds, so Ryan is abusing that progress for rich contributors instead of helping widespread jobs and economic progress. Listen carefully to “cut the deficit”—it means “except for your friends.”
Now chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee with tax jurisdiction, Ryan plans “tax reform” by consolidating seven tax brackets into one, and reducing the corporate tax to “a fair and simple” tax code. That “flatter” tax means the poor pay more.
He also keeps the fear assault going against Social Security. He purports, “The trust fund is not a real savings account.” He says it comes from “dubious government accounting.” Tell that to the seniors who paid in. The fund has a surplus of 2.7 trillion and even after 2033 can pay 75% of benefits, which congress could then fix in a flash with a third of our cost of the Iraq war until Obama brought troops home. Over half of America’s elderly would be in poverty without Social Security.
Ryan’s unregulated lump sum of lower funds for block grants will reduce the reach of critical initiatives like Food Stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, WIC, and other social service programs. It would reduce Medicaid by a third. “This is the definition of class warfare,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, said in response to Ryan’s most recent budget.
One area should not be near agreement by both sides but is: the trillion-dollar (including secret “black” operations) military and national security budgets. President Obama’s military advisors have persuaded him on the high-figure value despite the President’s criticizing our military expenditures as recently as last year, when he asserted, “We spend more on our military than the next ten counties combined.” The Congressional Black Caucus and Progressive Caucus always seek reductions and try to reallocate a big chunk for anti-poverty and jobs programs here at home. They always fail. Ryan’s budget actually calls for $270 billion more over ten years for military expenditures than Obama’s so the president’s version is considered “compromise.”
Ryan says he wants to “focus on steps that are achievable,” but what exactly does he aim to achieve? In the State of the Union speech this year, President Obama said to Congressmen who refuse to raise the minimum wage, “If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, try it.” He’s right –purchasing food, housing, and health care for your family with a job at $7.25 is just not possible.
The congressional leadership’s budget will put people into poverty, and leave millions without health, food, college educations for their children, and housing. It will squeeze the pockets of the middle class and lower incomes even drier. But the rich will get richer, and it will trickle down. Keep waiting.
Robert Weiner is a former spokesman for the Clinton White House and senior staff for Reps. John Conyers, Charles Rangel, Claude Pepper, Ed Koch and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. He wrote the epilogue to Bankole Thompson’s groundbreaking book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty.” Autumn Kelly is senior policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates.