Center for American Progress

Misplaced Priorities: Cutting Services to Finance Tax Breaks

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A budget document reflects priorities, and whether it is your family budget or the federal budget, you get what you pay for. Being a sound fiscal steward means making wise choices: setting a financial course that invests in a better future for our children, anticipating potential risks like long-term illness or job loss, and taking care of critical needs as they arise to reduce harms and keep costs low. That is good leadership, whether in our homes or in our nation's capitol.

Many Americans today are struggling to find affordable health care, pay for college, support their families, and put food on the table. Unfortunately, Congress is using the budget process to play games with America's finances. It is rolling back vital services that protect the middle class, and dismantling the social safety net that has protected all Americans for generations. The budget reconciliation package currently under consideration in Congress contains billions in cuts to health care for low-income families, student loans, child support enforcement, food stamps, and many other areas.

Why? In order to offer permanent tax cuts for those least in need. Reversing just one-seventh of the tax cuts for the top 1 percent of taxpayers – those making more than $300,000 a year – would be enough to avoid these costly cuts cited below.

Yes, a budget document reflects priorities – sadly, Congress is not looking out for mainstream families. It is time for a budget that reflects America's real priorities. We must do better.

The Congressional budgets, among other cuts, include:

  • Medicaid – new costs for more than 7 million poor and near-poor Americans, including 3.5 million children; an estimated 70,000 would lose coverage completely; low-income Americans just above the poverty line will be subject to substantial co-pays and charges;
  • Student Loans – $8 billion in new charges to students and their families: an average student borrower with $17,500 in loans would pay an estimated $5,800 in additional interest payments;
  • Child Support – cuts would lead to $24 billion in uncollected child support payments over the next decade; other changes would create large unfunded mandates for child care, leaving states with billions less to pay for education and health care;
  • Food Stamps – an estimated 225,000 people would lose food stamps, most of them in working families.

Figure 1. Already Enacted Tax Cuts for Top 1 Percent: 7 Times Larger Than Budget Cuts Targeting Working Poor and Students
(5-year costs, 2001-2004 tax changes)

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Bracken Hendricks

Senior Fellow