A budget is a moral document; it talks about where your values are. – Representative Rob Woodall (R-GA) discussing the House Budget Committee’s FY2016 Proposal
There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children. — President Nelson Mandela
In the House and Senate budget proposals for fiscal year 2016, passed with only Republican votes at the end of March, there are big winners and big losers. The big winners are defense spending and contractors and very wealthy people and powerful special interests. The big losers are children, our poorest group in America, and struggling low- and middle-income families trying to stay afloat in our economy.
Very big winners: Defense spending and contractors. The House and Senate Republican budgets add $38 billion more in defense spending above the Pentagon’s request in fiscal year 2016. Instead of being up front and including it in the regular defense department budget, it was added to a catch-all war fund not subject to budget caps. This is a budget gimmick some conservatives have decried as deceptive and fiscally irresponsible. The $38 billion additional defense spending could provide 2.5 million subsidized jobs to poor families with children lifting 1.2 million children from poverty; and double the Head Start program, which serves only 40 percent of children who need it, for one year. The House Republican budget goes much further adding $387 billion in defense spending between 2017-2025. This amount could lift 60 percent of our children out of poverty for five years.
Very big winners: Very wealthy people. People making more than $1 million a year would get a $50,000 average tax cut from the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) in the House budget. The overall taxpayer loss would be more than $1 trillion in revenue over 10 years. The Senate budget includes a last-minute amendment to repeal the estate tax, which benefits only the wealthiest 0.2 percent of Americans with estates worth over $5.4 million for an individual or $10.9 million for a couple. An estimated 5,400 wealthy estates would save $2.5 million each with a taxpayer loss of $269 billion dollars between 2016-2025. This morally indefensible government giveaway for super rich people could provide housing subsidies for 10 years for 2.6 million poor and near-poor families with children struggling to find a place to live and reduce child poverty by 21 percent; or pay for the President’s $80 billion proposed investment for child care subsidies for all low-income children under 4 and $75 billion for quality preschool for low-income 4 year olds and extend through 2025 Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit improvements that keep 1 million children out of poverty.
Very big losers: Vulnerable children and low- and middle- income families. Under the guise of balancing the budget and cutting the deficit, recklessly unjust massive cuts of more than $3 trillion over 10 years will undermine lifelines of stability and hope. The House and Senate Republican budgets will cut programs for those who need help most and increase government welfare for those who need help least.
Very big losers: The millions benefiting from health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Both Republican budgets seek to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination against 129 million children and adults with pre-existing health conditions, helps over 5 million uninsured 18-26 year olds now covered under parental insurance plans, and extends coverage for some foster care youths to age 26. More than 10 million near poor adults in twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia will lose Medicaid coverage received under ACA. The House budget also proposes to block grant Medicaid, merge CHIP into it, and make deep cuts that will reverse the progress made in reducing the rate of uninsured children by almost half since the late 1990s.
Very biggest losers: America’s future, dream and struggle to become a more just nation. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said at New York City’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 that “we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values . . . A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies . . . A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth . . . A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” A year later—and 46 years ago this week—Dr. King was assassinated. At his death he was urgently calling for a Poor People’s Campaign to end poverty in the world’s largest economy. How disappointed he would be to see us continue to take from the poor to give to the rich, the rising and huge wealth and income inequality gaps, the bloated military budgets and 45 million poor Americans including 14.7 million poor children in our midst.
These Republican budgets do not meet the test of the gospels and the prophets or America’s professed commitment to being a fair nation. These morally repugnant budgets would move us backwards. I hope every American will break their silence and demand better fairer leadership from these leaders beginning with just treatment of the most vulnerable among us.
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to staging.childrensdefense.org.
Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.