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Republicans would balance budget on backs of the poor

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Apr 18, 2014 - 1:43:51 PM

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Congressman Paul Ryan at a press conference addressing the GOP’s budget plan.
WASHINGTON ( - When it comes to the federal budget—the blueprint of U.S. spending priorities—the House of Representatives seems to be divided into alternate universes, each with an entirely different reality.

“It’s another disappointing day in Congress,” Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) said in a statement after the adoption of a 10-year spending plan authored by fellow Wisconsin Representative and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R). “My colleagues have, yet again, chosen to protect special interests in lieu of middle class working Americans and our vulnerable populations.”

Although blocs of Republicans object to aspects of the plan passed April 10 in the House, Rep. Ryan said it embodies the principles upon which the nation was founded. The 10-year budget blueprint serves as the GOP’s chief statement of policy priorities, a wish list of their proposals to reduce federal spending and overhaul safety-net programs.

“Some people wanted to go further, some people thought it went too far. The point is we unified around these common principles in a plan,” the Wisconsin lawmaker told reporters after headlining a state party dinner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa according to published reports. “That’s very important to me, which is we can’t just oppose, we have to propose.” Alternate universes.

“There were clear winners and losers today,” said Rep. Moore. “Unfortunately, the winners were large corporations and the wealthy. The losers included everyone else. As we slowly recover from the recession, we must work to implement policies that expand economic opportunity, not restrict its growth. We must also reach back to assist those hard working Americans who are struggling to pay their bills and feed their children. The Republican budget does the opposite.”

While some members of the all-White House Republican Caucus voted against the budget—most protesting that the cuts did not go far enough—every Democrat voted no, including more than 40 members of the Congressional Black Caucus and nearly two dozen more Latino and Asian members. The final narrow victory margin was 219-205.

What Rep. Ryan touted as $5.1 trillion in budget savings over the next decade are accomplished by targeting women and children, the most vulnerable according to an analysis prepared by the House Democratic leadership:

•  Slashing Medicaid by $732 billion over 10 years or by nearly 25 percent in 2024; with the largest impact on women as 70 percent of Medicaid’s adult beneficiaries are women.

•  Cutting food stamps by $137 billion over the next 10 years, 62 percent of adult food stamp recipients are women.

•  Dropping at least 200,000 women and children from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (SNAP), if the 15 percent cut in 2016 non-defense appropriations was applied across-the-board.

•  Cutting at least $500 billion to income support programs, like the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, unemployment insurance, low-income housing and energy assistance, Supplementary Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and child nutrition programs, including school lunches.

•  Forcing up to 170,000 children to lose access to Head Start and up to 3.4 million disadvantaged children at 8,000 schools to lose vital Title I education funding.

“A budget is a reflection of our priorities,” Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) said in a statement. “Republican’s priorities are clear once again with the passage of the Ryan Republican budget. Our country is strongest when our economy grows from the middle out, not the top down, but this budget takes the opposite approach.

“It taxes working families with children by an average of $2,000 in order to cut taxes for millionaires. A new analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice found that, ‘taxpayers with income exceeding $1 million in 2015 would receive an average net tax decrease of over $200,000 that year.’ Yet, at the same time, the Ryan budget would cost 1.1 million jobs in FY15, rising to 3 million the next year,” Rep. Edwards said.

In Rep. Ryan’s eyes however, the budget represents growing Republican “unity.” Mr. Ryan told an Iowa audience April 11 that his party can and must come together, and he held out his recently passed budget plan as a sign of that growing GOP unity. “We may disagree from time to time on tactics, but let’s put it all in perspective and come together and unify on the task,” he said after the speech according to published reports.

Republicans appear to be proceeding as if they are in another world, blind to the realities of people literally at their doorsteps. “What has changed in terms of the way we should look at budgets is the interest by everyone on the affects of inequality,” Howard University economist Dr. William Spriggs told The Final Call.

“Increasingly it is becoming the international consensus among experts that inequality hurts economic growth. Even the IMF—the International Monetary Fund—which normally is viewed as being against people and simply for banks getting paid back. Well, even now the IMF is saying ‘No. You need to take care of those at the bottom because growth that is more equal is more sustainable and gets you a faster growth rate.’

“So, what the Ryan budget does is ignore the new international consensus, even among the most conservative of international financial bodies, and says that in order to balance the budget, he is going to take huge cuts out of those programs that help to create equality,” said Dr. Spriggs.

These same austerity programs have produced violent reactions in Europe, even in prosperous France in recent days. “Well, we can’t do everything by simply having programs and writing op-ed (articles),” Dr. Spriggs said. “People do have to have some active role—now I’m not advocating violence. But they must be out demonstrating. They must be showing their frustration—I hope in a peaceful way—and then this November they get to show it in a democratic way, which is go out and vote out people who vote against their interest.

“We have seen enough of what is going on in the United States with the type of policies Paul Ryan is pursuing that only benefit the top 1 percent. None of that trickles down. Only a fool is left who believes after 30 years of evidence that making rich people richer is going to somehow help somebody in the middle,” Dr. Spriggs continued.

“You are going against logic and evidence. That can only be done if you are a fool. So, people should know now that you have to vote those people out. This is more important than the election for the president, because the continued stonewalling on behalf of the rich that is taking place is what is keeping our economy from having a faster and quicker growth rate. Everybody now knows that inequality is bad, that it hurts growth, and budgets need to make up for the level of inequality generated by past policies and by the way that we have rigged the market to favor those at the top.”

While for the last dozen years it has only been debated in the House with no chance of enactment—even when Democrats were in the majority—the Congressional Black Caucus alternative budget represents a different approach.

“Unlike the Republican budget, the CBC budget seeks to help working families and struggling Americans by reducing poverty and income inequality,” said Rep. Moore. “The CBC budget eliminates the sequester and reduces the national deficit in a responsible way. Our budget rejects the idea that our social safety net is a hammock and that tax breaks and tax loopholes for the wealthy take priority over protecting our vulnerable populations and bolstering key investments in our future.”

Despite its legislative futility, the CBC alternative has value, according to Dr. Spriggs. “It’s important to understand, when people say that the overall fiscal budget can’t be balanced in a responsible way. It’s important for people to see that there are real alternatives because the way that the (corporate-owned) press tends to cover this is that it’s all spinning, spinning, spinning, and ‘we’re gonna go bankrupt because we offer people health insurance, or because we offer people food assistance.’

“What the CBC budget does is let you know, that’s not true. You can look at their numbers and you can understand there are real choices.”

Budget “choices” to gut programs that benefit the needy are “choices,” not “necessities,” according to Dr. Spriggs. “This makes it bare, naked and clear to everybody. There are two alternatives. They’re not doing this out of necessity. So, when the Koch brothers get to continue to rake in their billions of dollars and other people cannot have health insurance. That’s your choice. That’s not the way the world has to work.”