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House GOP budget

Opinion: Ryan plan would harm our most vulnerable

Proposal would cut taxes for wealthy, take from those most in need

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The latest House Republican budget plan asks low-income and middle-class Americans to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while simultaneously delivering massive tax breaks to the richest 1 percent and preserving huge giveaways to Big Oil. It’s a recipe for repeating the mistakes of the Bush administration, during which middle-class incomes stagnated and only the privileged few enjoyed enormous gains.

Each component of the new House Republican budget threatens the middle class while doing nothing to add jobs or grow our economy. It ends the guarantee of decent insurance for senior citizens, breaking Medicare’s bedrock promise. It slashes investments in education, infrastructure, and basic research, all of which are key drivers of economic growth and mobility. And it cuts taxes for those at the top, asking the middle class to pick up the tab. It’s a budget designed to benefit the top 1 percent at everyone else’s expense.

The House Republican budget released Tuesday by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., purports to boost economic growth by cutting taxes and government spending. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric. Pull back the curtain.

When you do you’ll see a budget that will increase child hunger and cost jobs by cutting off critical nutrition assistance. You’ll see a blueprint that undermines family economic security by reducing access to health care and support for those providing for elderly loved ones. You’ll see a fiscal framework that insists on keeping elevated levels of nonwar defense spending at the expensive of caring for our veterans who are returning home. And you’ll see class warfare—a budget that enriches the wealthiest individuals and corporations with wasteful tax breaks at the expense of the middle class and most vulnerable.

Here are the five most egregious proposals that Rep. Ryan and the House leadership do not want you to know about their new budget proposal for fiscal year 2013, which starts in October:

  • Millions of meals would be missed by struggling families amid deep job losses in food-related industries
  • Middle-class economic security would be shredded by putting care for the elderly, the disabled, and children at risk
  • Millionaires and corporations would get a free ride at the expense of middle- and low-income families
  • Non-war defense spending would continue at the expense of caring for our veterans returning home to their families
  • Programs to help struggling families get back on their feet would be further squeezed

The American people should recognize the consequences of enacting the House budget plan in the coming fiscal year for what they are—a bare-knuckled effort to tilt our economy even further in favor of the wealthy at the expense of broad-based economic prosperity. Here are the details about the five most savage steps taken in the House budget.

Millions of meals missed

The House budget proposes to give states “more flexibility” in how they administer the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which ensures millions of Americans do not go hungry. What this really means is deep cuts to this effective and efficient program, which would inhibit its ability to respond during times of recession and would likely mean cuts to eligibility and benefits.

Under the House budget proposal, millions of people could be kicked off the nutrition assistance that stands between them and hunger, or could see their benefit set so low that it would be difficult to afford three meals a day. Considering that 76 percent of SNAP households included a child, elderly person, or disabled person, and three times as many SNAP households have income from work rather than welfare, Rep. Ryan’s proposed “work requirements” for the program make little sense.

Cuts to supplemental nutrition assistance hurt more than struggling families. Small businesses, including grocers and retailers who benefit from community members using these benefits to buy food for their families, would feel the hit as they see fewer customers coming through their doors. According to a new paper from the Center for American Progress, for every $1 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, 13,718 jobs are lost and 16.2 billion meals are put at risk for low-income families. The House budget proposes $33.2 billion in cuts to agriculture programs over 10 years. Making the modest assumption that half of this comes from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the House budget would put 227,718 jobs at risk, and as many as 269 billion meals for low-income could be lost over a decade.

Economic security would be shredded

The House budget proposes to give “states the ability to offer their Medicaid beneficiaries more options and better access to care.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, what this really means is deep cuts to Medicaid that would shift costs to states and fundamentally transform the ability of the program to meet the health care needs of poor, elderly, and disabled Americans. Cash-strapped states would be put between a rock and a hard place as they would be forced to cut benefits, reduce eligibility, or raise taxes—and in some cases they’d need to do all three.

With two out of every three Medicaid dollars going to provide care to people in nursing homes, victims of catastrophic accidents, and disabled children, cuts to Medicaid would hit these people and their families hard. Many seniors spend prolonged periods of time and much of their savings on home health care prior to entering a nursing home with few financial resources. As 70 percent of nursing home residents become Medicaid beneficiaries, seniors and their spouses could be left to fend for themselves at a time when they should be enjoying the retirement they’ve spent a lifetime earning.

Free ride for wealth, corporations

In order to “promote economic growth,” the House budget lowers tax rates on the wealthiest individuals and corporations to the tune of $3 trillion and makes the Bush-era tax cuts permanent. Yet the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has shown that extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy is one of the least effective ways to stimulate economic growth.

To put these large and costly tax cuts in perspective, consider this: For the additional $3 trillion in tax cuts proposed by the House budget, we could prevent all the cuts that Rep. Ryan suggests to nutrition assistance, Medicaid, and other domestic investments for children, veterans, and struggling families—and still make a dent in our deficit. But because of these enormous tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations, the House plan still fails to produce significant real deficit reduction—one of their stated priorities.

Veterans would be hurt

This House budget attacks safety net programs that are helping struggling veterans get back on their feet while maintaining unnecessarily high levels of nonwar defense spending. The House budget’s cuts in supplemental nutrition assistance, for example, could affect veterans and military families since $31 million of this funding in 2008—the last year for which complete data are available—was spent at military commissaries to help feed military members and their families who struggle against hunger.

By setting the cap on overall federal annual spending even lower than the bipartisan level passed in the Budget Control Act of 2011, the House budget will squeeze domestic safety net programs that serve veterans and nonveterans alike. A veteran, for example, lives in one in five households benefiting from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides heating and cooling assistance, and 1.2 million veterans used mental health services in 2010.

Yet the proposed House budget leaves the nonwar defense budget untouched—even with $70 billion in cost overruns caused by management failures in the Department of Defense military contracts from the past two years alone. Without undermining our national security, we can reduce the unprecedented level of baseline defense spending and invest in growing our middle class. But the House budget does the opposite, disinvesting from programs that provide stability and opportunity to veterans while maintaining wasteful defense spending.

Programs would be further squeezed

The House budget would cut annual federal spending by more than $350 billion, as compared to President Barack Obama’s proposed budget, while offering more than 10 times this amount in tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. Many of the human-needs programs that help educate and train low-income youth for jobs, provide critical development and education assistance to preschoolers, and give expectant mothers access to healthy, nutritious food, are contained in this part of the budget. Programs such as YouthBuild, Head Start, and WIC, or Women Infants and Children, have forever changed the lives of people such as Maurice, Melissa, and Emily by helping them get back on their feet and, in turn, positioning them to give back to their families and communities.

Cuts of this magnitude to this area of the budget would devastate millions of families who are still coping with unemployment, foreclosure, and cutbacks to paychecks and hours. By weakening the safety net even further, it ups the ante for families who are teetering above the poverty line. Hopefully they won’t fall, as there won’t be much there to catch them under the new House Republican budget plan.

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Conclusion

We know poverty reduction and deficit reduction are not mutually exclusive goals. We know that helping low-income families access the support they need when they fall on hard times is not only the right thing to do but also good for our economic growth and our national well-being. And we know that every bipartisan deficit-reduction agreement before this Congress protected low-income families and in many cases actually cut poverty and the deficit simultaneously. This budget is wildly out of step with that previous commitment.

When you look beyond the rhetoric, you see a House budget that gives up on vulnerable families and further erodes the middle-class while funneling more tax breaks to the 1 percent. It is high time we learn a lesson from our past—we’re strongest when we invest in programs and policies that fight poverty, reduce inequality, create jobs, and expand economic opportunity to all.

This article was published by the Center for American Progress.

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House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

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