Just in time for the holidays, Congress has decided to cut supports for our nation’s neediest by passing a Scrooge-inspired budget bill. These are the wrong choices and the wrong priorities. As a nation, we do not need to abandon long-held values that demand at least minimal supports for our most needy, who cannot tighten their belts any further.
The controversial budget reconciliation bill cuts funding for health care, student loans, child support enforcement, foster care funding, and other programs by $40 billion over the next five years. This highly partisan bill passed in the House by just six votes with no Democrats supporting it. The Senate was split evenly 50-50, again with no Democrats supporting the bill, and the cuts passed only after Vice President Cheney cast a tiebreaking vote.
Under the new provisions, students would see increased repayment costs, and low-income Americans in the Medicaid program could be subject to higher costs for medical care. Children would be hurt as well since the bill also cuts funding for child support enforcement as well as supports for foster care. The bill is also serving as a Trojan horse to enact changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program that would place unfunded mandates on states, and that would place unworkable work requirements on two-parent families.
While proponents will likely declare this a victory for fiscal responsibility, it must be noted that for every dollar in spending cuts, more than two dollars will be spent for additional tax cuts if a companion tax bill is accepted by both chambers. And all of the cuts combined add up to little more than one-fifth of the already enacted tax cuts for the top 1 percent of the population.
This holiday season, millions of people will donate clothing, food, and money to our nation’s charities. And these charities will endeavor to ease the burden on the least fortunate Americans, including those affected by Hurricane Katrina. It is a shame that at this time of need, Congress is instead intent on passing legislation that will harm ordinary and low-income Americans simply to finance yet more tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit high-income individuals.
John S. Irons is director of tax and budget policy at the Center for American Progress in Washington.
Read more: Budget Bill Cuts Critical Health Care Services for Low-Income Children, Families and Elders