Budget Battle For FY 2017
Once again, the Republican-controlled Congress is struggling to pass a Federal Budget. In the midst of a riveting, if ludicrous, Presidential primary season, the struggles of even the House GOP to come to an agreement on a proposal to vote for which can pass even the House before being sent to the Senate seems daunting – even with the rise of past Budget Committee Chair and 2012 Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan to the post of Speaker of the House.
The Obama Administration’s budget proposal was basically unceremoniously dumped into the recycling bin upon arrival at the House. Just as in every year since the GOP takeover of the House of Representatives after the 2010 midterm elections, no serious discussion of the Administration’s plan is expected, nor vote for passage to succeed. Virtually no GOP support for the proposal exists. Even getting the House GOP to use it as a starting point for further discussion has been ruled out.
As has been their practice for several years now, the Congressional Progressive Caucus has come up with its own budget proposal, known as the People’s Budget. It goes much further than the Administration’s proposals in trying to enact changes that will better serve the needs of the 99% of us currently vastly underrepresented in Congress. Various progressive and liberal groups have been doing their utmost to publicize the People’s Budget and gather support for it, but mainstream media almost totally ignore it as a distraction from their virtual wall-to-wall coverage of the Presidential primary campaign (highlighted by a massive overdose of the issue-poor train wreck that the Republican Klown Kar has devolved into).
The House Freedom Caucus, comprised of the most ardently fiscally conservative GOP House members, is the fly in the ointment causing Ryan and what is left of the mainstream House Republicans such consternation. They want to push even harder on austerity against the working poor, children and elderly than the Ryan mainstream acolytes are proposing, making it difficult to arrive at any solution which will garner a majority of votes in the House as a whole.
Not that anyone watching broadcast or cable news would necessarily know, Congress is also in the middle of its Easter Recess (don’t know if that’s what they call it officially, but it does coincide with that holiday on the calendar). This being a year when all House members and 1/3 of the Senate face re-election, in addition to the ongoing Presidential campaign, prospects of a productive open discussion of budgetary taxing and spending issues seems even less promising that they were last year. Legislative work will obviously take a backseat to campaigning and fundraising to than would otherwise be the case, especially due to the fact that Democrats could possibly regain a Senate or House (somewhat less likely, but possible). Standard recesses (which comprise more than half the calendar) will, of course, only be curtailed as a last resort in dire emergency.
A Congress which has seemed to pride itself on remaining gridlocked on every issue of greater importance than the naming of Post Offices appears destined to even exceed the futility of its efforts of last year in nearly every respect. The Senate sets extremely low expectations for its ability to even meet its minimal Constitutional duties, especially in the realm of confirming Presidential nominations – not just to the Supreme Court, which it has vowed to refuse to even discuss while Obama is in office, but other nominations as well. The House will likewise quietly refuse to do much of anything other than limp forward with the least possible action necessary to get through the election and up to the subsequent lame duck session without causing a catastrophic shut down just prior to November 8th. Expect a cacophony of much ado about little culminating in a session ending as early as possible to enable the mass exodus for campaigning. That’s if even that can cut through the noise of the Presidential campaign.
The People’s Budget should be the starting point for budget discussions. First, it pays for everything, which GOP budgets rarely do, and without placing ever-larger burdens on the people who can least afford to pay more. Raising wages at the bottom and real taxes paid at the top of the economy, while investing in job creation through infrastructure spending that has been avoided for way too long helps out a hell of a lot more people than cutting safety net programs to increase wealth inequality by maintaining undeserved tax cuts and loopholes for the 1% and big business ever could. Trickle down economics have never worked to accomplish anything other than making the rich richer and the poor poorer and were never intended to be more than a fairy tale to appease the masses. Pretending it will was too old to fool most of us when George W. Bush pushed his cuts through. More of the same now won’t cut it.
The austerity programs proposed by the GOP (let alone the more extreme proposals made by the Freedom Caucus) will accomplish nothing more than aggravating the trend towards ever-increasing inequality in wealth, income, educational opportunity and overall political power that has been eroding our democracy for decades. One of the most transparent aspects of our government of late has been how blatant many of the institutions of our governance have become about catering to the desires of the wealthy and a capitalistic economic system that has become more predatory on the needs of the vast majority of our people with each successive round of austerity perpetrated, every deregulation of business and industry and every unfair trade agreement that serves the bottom line of corporate profit regardless of the deleterious effects such actions have on people in general and our environment.
Which brings me to another key point. Very little attention has been placed for many years on the propensity to pass without serious questioning on the part of anyone in the mass media or political leadership (to include the ongoing Presidential campaign) a military budget that has grown way too large. The People’s Budget at least tries to start putting it in check. GOP proposals never talk about raising revenues to meet needed expenditures – this is especially true when it comes to paying for any of the many wars we are constantly engaged in. Discretionary spending must be cut – discretionary meaning you’re cutting into the livelihoods and wellbeing of people too weak or voiceless to do anything about it. Even the Democrats are loathe to question the wisdom of having a military budget this bloated compared to any other nation on the planet.
Despite supposedly winding down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started by his predecessor, the Obama administration has not ended them. We’re still bombing (using planes and drones) many countries in the region and engaging in sword rattling in others as well. Be honest with the American people. If you want to conduct foreign policy primarily through the use of military force, do so at the expense of the people making the most profit from it, not from everybody else. Pretending that blank check spending on military adventurism is okay, but feeding, clothing, housing and meeting the health care needs of all our citizens has to be strictly accounted for and paid in full in cash is morally wrong. Every part of the budget deserves scrutiny, including the Pentagon, CIA, NSA and every other department which routinely escapes discussion when budgets come up for approval. Since the 1% and their corporations seem hell-bent on sending other people to fight their battles for them, they damned well ought to be made to pay for them.
But I digress. the budget for the next fiscal year will probably not really be settled before the election. Kick the can down the road seems to be our national legislators’ favorite pastime. I am not optimistic that the final product will serve the needs of the nation any better than the last several have. Please keep that in mind when you vote for representation in Congress and for a new President in November. We can’t afford to keep sliding ever rightward. Unless, of course, we are a part of the privileged elites who have seen most of the gains in the post-recession economy.
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