WASHINGTON – House Republicans and Senate Democrats have approved budget plans with radically different plans for next year’s spending. Both say their plans would would not hurt the working poor,minorities or women.
If that reasoning seems inconsistent,it may be because the partisan divide is too great. Both parties say their plans for 2014 will also reduce the deficit.
The Republican budget plan,sponsored by Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin,cuts $4.6 trillion in spending over the next 10 years. Republicans say the cuts are needed to avoid indebtedness to foreign countries,but Democrats are worried that the non-defense budget cuts will harm those already under the poverty line.
Ryan’s budget causes concern among those such as Emily Townsend,39,of Takoma Park,Md.,who has depended on Medicaid for 19 years to pay for medical care for her daughter Freya,who has severe physical and mental disabilities. Townsend is physics postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland,College Park.
Townsend,who spoke at a Democratic Women’s Working Group press conference,has paid for private insurance from the time Freya was 6 months old. But she has depended on Medicaid to cover her daughter’s costs when the private insurance doesn’t,including open-heart surgery.
“We have to hope that society will provide a safety net to care for our kids,” Townsend said. “It’s not right that moms like me will have to endure the fear of what will happen to their child without Medicaid coverage.”
The House budget includes $135 billion in cuts to SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,better known as food stamps,and $2.6 trillion in reductions for Medicaid and other help for low-income people to buy health insurance,Arlock Sherman,a senior researcher with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,said.
“Two-thirds of its cuts are targeted at low- and moderate-income people,” Sherman said. “It would disproportionally affect them because women and minorities have higher poverty rates.”
Rep. Diane Black,R-Tenn.,a member of the Budget Committee,said that Washington’s spending problem is what ultimately harms women,who work for small businesses or own small businesses at a higher percentage than men do.
“What we hear from them is that they are incredibly concerned about the fiscal health of this country,” Black said. “They are concerned about getting the debt under control … the more we do to stabilize the country,you’re going to see ready capital and job growth.”
Black said a safety net for those in need of assistance is important,but she emphasized greater accountability for social programs.
“I think that getting the spending issue under control is a fairness issue,” said Black,who has two grandchildren.
However,Steve Kyle,an economics professor at Cornell University,said that Ryan’s budget fails to either create jobs or get the economy out of the recession.
“A massive cut in spending is not going to create jobs,” Kyle said. “In fact,it will do the opposite. It doesn’t work the same way as a household budget – on a macroeconomic level,everybody’s spending is someone else’s income.”
He said that if Ryan’s bill passes the Senate,poor people will be on their own.
Ryan’s budget would cut Medicaid by $810 billion over the next 10 years,turning it into a block grant. States would get a lump sum of money and decide how to spend it on medical care for the poor.
Kyle said the transformation of programs like Medicaid into block grants presents potential danger for lower- and middle-income families,who depend on the program for their health-care needs,because it is easier for the federal government to cut funding from a block grant than it is to eliminate a specific benefit.
Irwin Garfinkel,a professor of contemporary urban problems at the Columbia University School of Social Work,said that fixing the Ryan budget economically is child’s play. But,he said,from a political standpoint it’s a different issue,especially with politicians who are focused on talking points such as raising the retirement age.
“That’s a huge cut in benefits,especially to the people at the lower end,” Garfinkel said. “It sounds neutral,but raising the retirement age is class discriminatory and solves the problem on the backs of the people at the bottom.”
Garfinkel also argued against turning Medicare into a voucher program. Ryan’s budget would do that in 2024,affecting those born in 1959 or later. Garfinkel said that eventually forces the consumer to pay more out of pocket or give up partial coverage. Instead,he said,health-care costs need to be reined in.
The Affordable Care Act is supposed to do just that.
“Even the fear of government involvement seems to have restrained costs,” Garfinkel said.
Garfinkel said a middle-of-the-road budget would include investing in classic public goods,such as roads,highways and education.
Kyle said if the House Republicans want to be taken seriously,they need to at least consider cuts to defense spending.
But he doesn’t foresee Republicans voting on tax increases for the rich,either.
“It’s hard to tell what will happen,because their budgets are so far apart,” Kyle said.
Reach reporter Jess Miller at or [email protected] or 202-326-9871. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.