Another Year, Another Alleged Budget Battle
A recent flurry of activity in Congress is setting up another round of Federal Budget discussions and votes on how much our government should spend in the next fiscal year, on what programs and how to pay for it. While the GOP gaining a majority in the Senate due to last November’s midterm elections has changed the names of some of the key players, the major dynamics involved in determining the goals of three major factions making significant proposals remains fairly constant. In fact, while specifics, where they exist, may differ somewhat, the overall direction in which each proposal seeks to move the country remain virtually the same as they have since the GOP took control of the House following the 2010 midterms.
The Administration seeks in its proposal to break from the austerity measures enacted in the sequester during previous renditions of the budget procedure. It calls for new investments in education, infrastructure spending and strengthening social programs. The spending is designed to create jobs and improve both the economy and the tax structure in such a way as to ease the burden on working families who have been gaining little if anything from the “recovery” from the Great Recession. The goal is to alleviate systemic inequities which have benefitted primarily the top of the income earners and owners of wealth in our society at the expense of the rest of us.
Proposals from the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Republicans in the House and Senate diverge from the Administration’s proposals in opposite directions, as has been true for the last several years. The Progressives seek to increase spending on social programs and change the tax structure to pay for the budget in a way that benefits poor and working families to a greater degree than the Administration is calling for, along with increasing the tax burden on upper incomes to bring them more in line with what existed before the tax cuts from the George W. Bush Administration. It further seeks to end some of the loopholes which have been instrumental in the rising economic inequality that has become even more obvious since the recovery from the last recession began.
The GOP proposals differ from each other mostly in the degree to which they run counter to the more progressive measures called for by the Administration and the CPC. The Senate proposal appears somewhat less draconian in its cuts to social programs. However, one push remains constant – both seek repeal of the Affordable Care Act and increasing the Defense budget by taking money from social programs, rather than by closing tax loopholes or increasing taxes on the wealthy in any way. Just as in the Ryan budgets, the new GOP proposals come back to dismantling the health care reforms already in place, which have, in fact, been saving money in the budget, lowering expenses in Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP and other programs that help families make ends meet, while simultaneously refusing to take such measures as raising the minimum wage, which could also help raise people out of poverty.
As in past renditions of their arguments, the GOP proposals fail when it comes to specifics concerning the revenues they plan to bring in vs. the spending they call for. Repealing the ACA without removing the revenues raised thereby means their projections of a balanced budget in ten years would require nearly another trillion in revenues not called for. Also, there are expired tax breaks, some of which will likely be renewed (to the benefit of businesses and various groups of individuals), and which are also unaccounted for by their chronically fuzzy math.
All of the number crunching and talk of transferring programs from the federal to the state level using block grants and decreasing bureaucracy, or increasing individual freedom and flexibility by transitioning Medicare (basically in a fashion very similar to the Ryan Medicare proposal of a few years back, which rightfully went over like a lead balloon) serves only to obfuscate the true purpose of the Republican proposals. We’ve been living through Reaganomics for what is approaching four decades now. The promised economic boon to lift all boats has done a tremendous job of floating yachts while refusing to plug the leaks in our rowboats and causing most us to sink. The only redistributive trickling of wealth has been upward, not downward or more broadly to the vast majority of us.
The only thing the GOP proposals promise is a continued move away from meeting the needs of all our people to ensuring the economic gains attained by those at the top of the economic pyramid are sustained and increased in the future. Consistently, at both the state and federal level, legislatures and elected executives of that party do everything within their power to reduce the strength and effectiveness of workers and their organizations and to decrease the wellbeing of workers and their families. Decimating a health care system which has insured millions of people for the first time may make it appear that the government is spending less in its budget to provide these services, but it fails to calculate the true societal costs and accumulated personal misery it will cause.
The only part of the budget that seems to matter to the Republicans is the Defense Budget. They’ve been trying to find a way beyond the sequester for that particular portion of the budget since before it was even written. They’ve gotten used to having a blank check they can fill out anytime they feel the need to extend an old war or start a new one. Never do they apply the same tax and spend philosophy they insist upon in health care, food, housing or anything else to the preparation for and conduct of war. Even as they were coming up with these tired old budget proposals, some among them were putting more effort into ramping up a frenzy of public opinion in favor of starting a new shooting war with Iran than they were into ensuring the needs of their constituents back home. This serves the interests of their wealthy campaign contributors far more than it does the average voter, who ends up not only paying the monetary cost but nearly all the human costs as well.
The GOP will keep playing this rigged budget game for as long as they can stay in office doing so. Give them a President, and they’ll go even farther. As long as they continue to win elections at the state and federal level in each cycle other than Presidential election years, those who possess the gold will continue to make the rules. At this point, anyone voting to repeal the ACA for any reason other than to replace it with single-payer universal coverage should be voted out of office. We need for the government to pass a budget that moves this country and all its people in a direction of more equality and prosperity, not back to feudal Europe or the Antebellum South. Tell Congress we want a budget that accomplishes those ideals, not one that offers promises that have never and can never be delivered upon because they are backed by nothing other than time-tested proven lies.
Suggested Further Readings: