Lawmakers Must Exercise Discretion with Federal Budget
By Emily Holubowich, Joel Packer and Rachel Gragg
President Obama just submitted his Fiscal Year 2014 budget to Congress. In the ensuing discussion on how the nation should proceed, he'll have to bridge a substantial gulf between the House's spending plan and the one approved by the Senate in order to end the cycle of fiscal crises that has plagued America for the last several years.
To break the stalemate, the president must insist on a bipartisan grand bargain that takes a balanced approach to our nation's finances and protects funding for programs that provide critical services to Americans.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said that every dollar of new debt Congress approves must be accompanied by a dollar in spending cuts.
That approach just isn't realistic. Congress has already slashed discretionary spending by $1.5 trillion. If the harmful sequester cuts remain in place, federal spending will have been cut by over $2.5 trillion. Those cuts are four times as large as the increases in revenue that Congress has approved.
Slashing discretionary spending won't balance the budget. In fact, you could eliminate all nondefense discretionary programs -- medical and scientific research; education and job training; infrastructure; public safety and health; and the national parks -- and the United States would still run a deficit of half a trillion dollars a year.
These cuts are already having a disastrous impact on ordinary Americans' lives. Take public health. Thanks to spending cuts Congress has already approved, 650,000 fewer people will receive HIV testing, and nearly 50,000 fewer women will undergo cancer screenings. The National Institutes of Health may be forced to eliminate over 2,000 research grants that seek cures for debilitating diseases such as cancer. Local communities could lose $48 million in funds to fight public health emergencies like natural disasters and outbreaks of disease.
Congress is also gutting investments in our future. Nearly 31 million children will lose access to critical education programs, including Head Start. One million at-risk students will be turned away from the Career and Technical Education Program -- even though it reduces the high school dropout rate. College is being put out of reach for low- and middle-income families due to cuts to college financial aid.
Adult education will suffer, too. The National Skills Coalition predicts that almost two million fewer workers and employers will be able to participate in key employment and training programs in 2013.
The casualties will be people like Yasmeen, a single mother in northern California who had been a victim of domestic abuse. While living in a women's shelter with her two toddlers, she participated in a workforce-training program operated by the Jewish Vocational Center in San Francisco. Thanks to the training she received, she was able to obtain a job as a clinic coordinator at the University of California-San Francisco -- and get off welfare.
Apparently, Congress is not interested in empowering people like Yasmeen to secure better lives for their families.
In Utah, a food pantry serving 1,000 poor and hungry Salt Lake City residents has closed thanks to cuts in federal funding. That closure couldn't come at a worse time for the community, as need has tripled in the last five years.
Lawmakers must find a better way to bring the federal budget under control.
Congress has already forced low-income and working-class Americans to swallow trillions of dollars in cuts to programs that make their lives better. Attempting to balance the budget on their backs will only cause more people to go hungry, deprive more kids of an education, and cast more Americans out of their homes and onto the streets.
Unfortunately, the House-passed budget doubles down on these harmful cuts. That's simply the wrong path to foster economic growth, increase our global competitiveness and create more jobs.
President Obama and Congress must work together to adopt a more balanced budgetary course. With vital programs shuttering on an almost daily basis, there's no time to waste.
Emily Holubowich is Executive Director of the Coalition for Health Funding. Joel Packer is the Executive Director of the Committee for Education Funding. Rachel Gragg is the Federal Policy Director of the National Skills Coalition.