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Hurricane Katrina and the resulting devastation in the Gulf Coast have reignited the debate over national priorities in the federal budget. Progressives must respond in a way that reflects their own priorities. America must return to long-term fiscal discipline—by repealing spending on tax cuts for the most fortunate, by slashing spending on giveaways to corporations or congressional pet projects, and by protecting the Americans who, like Katrina’s victims, already live on the edge.
The following principles should govern progressive budgeting today:
1. The top deficit-reduction priority must be bringing down the massive long-term deficits that now project as far as the eye can see. Bringing down long-term deficits will maximize growth, minimize the need for future tax increases and/or painful budget cuts, and ensure the nation can respond to future crises. The real priority is the long term, not simply “paying for Katrina”—particularly when that would mean deep, one-time cuts in discretionary aid to America’s most vulnerable
2. At minimum, Congress cannot allow more spending on new tax breaks for the wealthiest. The tax cuts are the single largest contributor to the record run-up of deficits in the last four years and we cannot afford to continue to spend billions of dollars in tax breaks for Americans who are already well-off. In any sensible plan to restore fiscal discipline, repeal of those tax cuts for upper-income individuals would be the single largest step. Ultimately, we should undertake a comprehensive review of all the tax cuts and develop a budget that will permit the country to meet its most immediate needs in a fiscally responsible way. But any program must, at minimum, not allow new tax breaks for the most fortunate at a time when so many Americans are suffering.
3. Spending cuts should strike first and foremost at the corporate subsidies and congressional earmarks that have been the hallmark of the last four years. While President Bush has not vetoed a spending or tax cut bill since he became president, he has enacted historic giveaways to drug, energy, and any number of other corporations. At the same time, earmarking has reached historic heights.
4. The victimization of the Gulf Coast’s poor by Katrina cannot become an excuse to victimize the rest of America’s poor through budget cuts. The Republican Study Committee’s proposals, among others, to cut Medicaid by $225 billion, to increase Medicare premiums by $85 billion, and to cut $4.5 billion from rural economic development would visit a second hurricane on poor people across America.
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