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In My Opinion
Lynn Paris

The Irony of Budgets


The other night I was watching Real Time with Bill Maher as he presented an amusing and highly insightful piece of film. A group of Tea Partiers was protesting the massive and unnecessary spending being done by the Democrats under Obama and pledging their support of the Ryan Budget. So the filmmaker asked each person: “What would you like to see cut from the federal budget? How about Medicare?”  . . .  “No.” Education? . . .  “No.” Disaster relief? . . . “No.” Social Security? . . . “No.” Law enforcement? . . . “No.” “Fixing our crumbling roads and bridges? . . . “No.” Unemployment insurance? . . . “No.” Food and water safety? . . . “No.” In fact, no one could name a single thing they wanted to cut, with the possible exception of salaries paid to members of Congress.

The piece had its desired effect; the audience laughed and the irony of the situation was clear, at least to Maher, his audience and me. Sadly, however, the irony was lost on the Tea Partiers, who continued their protest, as well as their support of the Ryan Budget proposal.  Because, as with almost everything else that has transpired during Obama’s presidency, Republicans don’t really have to know what they’re voting for, as long as it’s proposed by a member of the extreme right. They don’t have to know what they’re voting against either, even when it will hurt them or this country. How can anyone forget the way the Tea Party protested against the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) while wearing placards saying, “Get your hands off my Medicare?” As it turns out, surveys have shown that the majority of Republicans, even the Tea Partiers, actually approve of all the separate elements of the Affordable Care Act; they just hate it and want it repealed. Now that’s irony.

So when I look at the two most strikingly different budget proposals floating around right now, I’m struck by the fact that although neither has a chance of being passed, the majority who so ardently support the House GOP budget put forth by Paul Ryan obviously don’t know what’s in it. And what’s in it are drastic cuts to everything they do NOT want to see cut!

I believe that budgets present a vision of the kind of America their proponents want, as well as the direction in which they want the country to go.  The House Republican budget, or Ryan budget — a rehash of his budget from last year that voters appeared to have repudiated in the November elections — clearly embodies the right wing’s vision for this country.  It’s titled, “Path to Prosperity” and its priorities are reducing the deficit and balancing the federal budget in ten years, a balance most independent economists say is not only unnecessary but counter-productive.

Among the highlights of Ryan’s “vision” is the repeal of the Affordable Care Act while offering no viable alternative (and using the savings derived from the ACA as part of his savings!); restructuring Medicare (by 2023) into a voucher system whereby seniors would be entitled to vouchers to help them purchase private health insurance; maintaining the Bush tax cuts along with a new tax code that features a top rate of 25 percent, representing a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and a tax hike for the middle class. The plan also pledges to eliminate tax loopholes and deductions, but never mentions which ones. That leaves eliminating the home mortgage deduction, with its potentially devastating impact on the middle class, still out there as a possibility.

Ryan’s budget would force states to drastically cut services based on significant cuts in federal funding for programs like Medicaid (issuing block grants to the states) as well as deep spending cuts for services such as education, law enforcement, disaster relief, water treatment and any improvements to our infrastructure. Seniors would be required to pay more for health care; food stamps for children and families would be cut. His budget does not, however, cut any national defense spending, which it makes a priority.

The Ryan budget invests nothing, zero, in job creation, assuming that those super-wealthy “job creators” we’ve been told so much about will finally actually create jobs and that the failed “trickle-down economics” theory will miraculously work its wonders at some point in the next ten years.

It makes me wonder what will be left of the middle class, and how much lower our standing in the global community will fall in terms of health care, education, research, innovation, infrastructure and, lest we forget, any sense of compassion and morality. For me, this is a vision of a nation going backwards, a nation that is abandoning the American Dream.

I contrast that to the budget put forth by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Although it gets almost no attention from the mainstream media, it represents a totally different vision for this country and deserves to be part of the national conversation.  It is titled, “Back to Work” Budget, and clearly identifies job creation as the single biggest priority in this country, and the lack of investment in jobs as the single biggest reason for slow economic growth. The entire budget is based on the hypothesis that what we need is investment — and not austerity — to get the country moving in the right direction.

This budget outlines how to generate 7-million jobs in the first year, jobs that invest in this country’s future by focusing on rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, including roads, bridges, transit, energy and water — things that are not only desperately needed but would create thousands of jobs — modernizing our schools, rehiring some 300,000-plus laid-off teachers, and providing aid to states allowing them to rehire cops, firefighters and other public employees.

it includes massive investment (yes, spending), including a $544 billion increase over current spending on public investments and job creation in the first year, including $75 billion for an infrastructure program, $155 billion for a public works program and aid to distressed communities, $80 billion for hiring teachers and $92 billion for reinstating the Making Work Pay tax credit. It also expands unemployment insurance, sends more money to the states and undoes the sequester cuts.

So how do they propose paying for all this spending? The “Back to Work” budget increases taxes on millionaires and billionaires by allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for families earning more than $250,000; it taxes investments at the same level as wages; it closes corporate tax loopholes (like reducing deductions for corporate jets, meals and entertainment); enacts both a financial transactions tax and a carbon tax, and introduces both a public option and government negotiating for drug prices to Medicare. In addition, the budget finds savings by cutting Pentagon spending back to 2006 levels, focusing on modern security needs rather than more ships and “muskets.”

In other words, this is a budget that is investing in low income and middle class families. It’s investing in education and infrastructure, energy and innovation. If you want to know more, I invite you to read it for yourself:

In my fantasy world, people would read the budgets and, without knowing (or caring) what party supported them, simply choose the budget that best reflects what they want to invest in and what they want to cut. They’d choose the budget that comes closest to their vision of the direction America should be going in, and the vision of the kind of American they want to live in. In my fantasy world, congress would vote with their conscience and not their party and there would be a citizen groundswell of support for an America that doesn’t disproportionately favor the wealthiest 2 percent, that is moral and compassionate, that still wants to be creative and innovative and fights to prepare our children and our country for the future.

What we’ll get, instead, is some carved up, watered down, bitterly contested compilation of half-baked ideas and trade-offs that will barely move the needle. How much ground will be lost, how many people will suffer needlessly, how much of the safety net will disappear, how much more income inequality will our society tolerate? What will it take for my fantasy world to become a reality?

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