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.