Congressional Briefing on the Federal Budget Debate

With Wash­ing­ton deep in debt pol­i­tics this spring and sum­mer, the Edu­ca­tion Fund couldn’t have picked a more press­ing topic than pub­lic spend­ing and taxes to kick off its series of Con­gres­sional Brief­ings.  More­over, the May 23, 2011 panel dis­cus­sion on the fed­eral bud­get chal­lenged the issue’s dom­i­nant narrative.

We’re not broke,” Jacque­line Simon, Pol­icy Direc­tor at the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ment Employ­ees, reas­sured her lis­ten­ers early in the pro­ceed­ings, debunk­ing one of the myths about fed­eral finances that under­lie pro­posed huge bud­get cuts– cuts focused almost exclu­sively on human needs pro­grams.  Simon was one of four pan­elists who offered infor­ma­tion and analy­sis to an audi­ence of ADA activists and Con­gres­sional staffers gath­ered in the Ray­burn House Office Build­ing on Capi­tol Hill.

We don’t have a spend­ing prob­lem in Amer­ica, we have a rev­enue prob­lem,” diag­nosed Ryan Clay­ton, co-founder of the bud­get advo­cacy group US Uncut. Ear­lier in the ses­sion, Paul Van de Water, Senior Fel­low at the Cen­ter on Bud­get and Pol­icy Pri­or­i­ties, had demon­strated that point with a chart show­ing that the source of bud­get deficits since 2001 has not been out-of-control domes­tic spend­ing– as rou­tinely claimed by con­ser­v­a­tives– but instead tax cuts, war spend­ing, and the dis­as­trous bud­get effects of the Great Recession.

Robert McIn­tyre, founder and exec­u­tive direc­tor of Cit­i­zens for Tax Jus­tice (CTJ), called the claim of exces­sive spend­ing “demon­stra­bly false” and instead pointed to $365 bil­lion in annual tax give­aways to cor­po­ra­tions and wealthy indi­vid­u­als as a prin­ci­pal deficit cul­prit, say­ing of these innu­mer­able sub­si­dies: “Most of them are stu­pid and waste­ful; some of them are per­verse and harmful.”

Simon offered insight into the human cost of cut­ting pro­grams with no room to cut.  She spoke of vis­it­ing vet­er­ans’ hos­pi­tals where kitchens and laun­dries were short staffed and nurses on the night shift were respon­si­ble for 25 patients each.  Two-thirds of these Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Affair’s AFGE mem­bers are vet­er­ans them­selves, Simon reported.

Another mis­guided econ­omy mea­sure revealed by Simon is a new pol­icy of the Social Secu­rity admin­is­tra­tion to no longer offer full ben­e­fits infor­ma­tion to clients, instead with­hold­ing this vital infor­ma­tion unless specif­i­cally asked. These and other budget-cutting mea­sures will cause “human tragedies that will do noth­ing to bal­ance the bud­get or make [for] pri­vate sec­tor job growth,” Simon noted.

Sev­eral of the panel’s par­tic­i­pants bemoaned Pres­i­dent Obama’s fail­ure to bet­ter defend more ratio­nal and humane bud­get­ing.  McIn­tyre urged the Admin­is­tra­tion to stand firm on restor­ing fairer taxes for the wealthy and using the money for deficit reduc­tion– not, as has been sug­gested, low­er­ing other taxes, an idea that CTJ’s McIn­tyre called “insane.”

Clay­ton reported that lib­er­als’ chronic inabil­ity to “win the tax argu­ment” had been over­come when his orga­ni­za­tion linked the fail­ure of huge cor­po­ra­tions to pay taxes to cuts in pop­u­lar pro­grams like Head Start. Once that con­nec­tion is made in the minds of vot­ers, “all of a sud­den, we’re win­ning,” Clay­ton said.

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As always, the ADA Ed Fund is grate­ful to Con­gress­woman Lynn Woolsey and her staff for their assis­tance in reserv­ing space and help­ing to coor­di­nate these monthly brief­ings.  For more infor­ma­tion on upcom­ing events, please visit our ADA Edu­ca­tion Fund Face­book page.




ADA Edu­ca­tion Fund Con­gres­sional Brief­ings: A Lib­eral Per­spec­tive on the Fed­eral Bud­get from ADA & ADA Ed Fund on Vimeo

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ADA Education Fund

The ADA Edu­ca­tion Fund is an inde­pen­dent, char­i­ta­ble entity that focuses on increas­ing pub­lic aware­ness through edu­ca­tion and com­mu­nity orga­niz­ing that builds capac­ity for change. The Ed Fund pro­duces peri­odic pol­icy briefs, hosts pro­gres­sive speak­ers on a range of issues, spon­sors advo­cacy and research fel­low­ships, and works to expand civic par­tic­i­pa­tion through com­mu­nity orga­niz­ing around eco­nomic and social jus­tice issues.