As the 112th Congress gets into full swing, Republicans are positioning themselves to fight for unprecedented cuts in non-security discretionary spending in exchange for their votes to raise the debt limit. Despite Republican threats to bring government to a halt if an agreement is not reached, raising the debt limit should not garner concessions from President Obama or Members of Congress. It is not a move that anyone wants to make, but it needs to be done for the country to function and should not be used as a bargaining chip to obtain across-the-board cuts on non-security discretionary spending. The debt limit is expected to be reached as soon as March, and an agreement must be reached before then. Members of Congress are trying to turn the urgency of the situation into an excuse to threaten cuts to vital programs. While it is difficult to conceptualize what cutting billions of dollars from the federal budget would do, picture 21% cuts on Head Start, Family Violence and Battered Women’s Shelters or the Social Services Block Grant (which happens to serve as the biggest source of funding for the Child Protective Services System).
Raising the debt limit is a painful and necessary reminder that we need both spending cuts and revenue increases to care for our elderly, educate our children, and create infrastructure to remain competitive in the global economy. This is neither a game nor something to use for political fodder. As Americans who are affected by and care about these vital social programs (including something as basic as The Department of Education), we must not allow Congress to compromise the lives of children and the most vulnerable by these political games of “Uncle.”
Congress must be forced to bear witness to the reality that those cuts impose on people’s everyday lives. Making 21% cuts across the board is the easy solution for them. They neither have to dig deeper to see both the true spending and lack of revenue problem nor irritate any particular part of their constituency.
We must not allow these decisions to be easy ones for Congress. There are millions of Americans and hundreds of advocacy organizations in D.C and across the country ready to stand up to Congress and their careless decisions. Congress may believe that widespread cuts would not irritate any particular part of their constituency, but I happen to be particularly annoyed. I am annoyed at the lack of foresight some members of Congress show when speculating that double digit cuts could somehow be good for Americans who are still trying to pull themselves out of the hole the Great Recession dug.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner stated that even if we do manage to return to 2008 spending levels (like the Republicans are proposing), the debt limit increase would only stand to be delayed for two weeks. Essentially, this compromise on spending cuts and the debt limit could threaten the safety net of millions of Americans and destroy essential protections for low-income Americans, so we can delay the inevitable for a few weeks of political victory. I know difficult decisions must be made, and we must start designing an America budget that pays attention to spending reductions - and revenue increases - but it would be unconscionable to put the weight of these spending cuts on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable Americans.
We must ask ourselves where our priorities lie, and who needs to be protected during this prolonged, economic recovery. Our budget is a living, breathing moral document and one that dictates and says to all our citizens, including our children, where our priorities lie. Let’s show them and their parents that our priority is not just to rein in the deficit, but to give them a safe world to grow up in. And not a world where we are solely concerned with homeland security, but security of a different sort. The security to know that if you are willing and able, you will have the opportunity to get an education and go to college and Pell grants will be funded to help you get there. You, as a child, will not have to be denied food because of cuts to food stamp programs and you will have a place to sleep because it remained a priority to fund low-income housing. That when you grow up, you can feel confident knowing that the Medicare and Social Security safety nets will be there to protect your parents. Let’s be clear to Speaker Boehner, all of Congress, and President Obama, exactly where our priorities lie.