GOP budget would cause irreparable damage – but there is a way out


July 14, 2017

Editor’s note: The following op-ed by CHN Executive Director Deborah Weinstein appeared in The Hill Friday, July 14.
Earlier this week, more than 1,500 local, state and national groups delivered a letter to Congress urging members to avoid draconian cuts in the fiscal year 2018 budget proposal advancing in the House. These groups, including service providers, faith groups, labor and civil rights organizations and more, represent millions of Americans.

The upcoming fight in the House over the FY18 budget has not received as much attention as the struggle in the Senate over healthcare legislation. But there are some interesting similarities – and some important indications that the only proper and workable path forward for Congress on both healthcare and the 2018 budget is a bipartisan path that rejects drastic cuts to Medicaid and other essential programs

In the Senate, the GOP leadership has been stymied in its efforts to bring healthcare up for a vote in part due to moderate Republicans such as Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.  These moderates are concerned over the drastic scope of potential Medicaid cuts in their state as well as the very real possibility that people with preexisting conditions will be unable to afford health insurance if the bill becomes law.

In the House, plans to pass a FY 2018 budget resolution also have been frustrated by moderate Republicans – 20 members of the Tuesday Group, led by Rep. Charles Dent of Pennsylvania, have warned against deep cuts to programs such as Medicaid, SNAP/food stamps, or help for people with disabilities.

“While fiscal responsibility and long-term budget stability is essential, requiring hundreds of billions of dollars – as much as $200 billion by some accounts – in budget savings from mandatory spending programs in the reconciliation package is not practical and will make enacting tax reform even more difficult than it already will be,” the Tuesday Group stated in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). To be clear, we don’t share the Tuesday Group’s interest in enacting still more tax cuts.  All the proposals out so far would massively reduce taxes for rich people and corporations, irresponsibly weakening our capacity to invest in our shared future. But the moderate Republicans do not understate the threat to programs vital to protect the health and basic living standards for the non-rich and vulnerable. Some Republicans want to cut even more — $300-$400 billion in cuts, on top of the Medicaid reductions already passed by the House and pending in the Senate as part of the healthcare repeal legislation.

The letter to Congress signed by more than 1,500 groups notes that human needs programs already have been cut in recent years because of budget caps under existing law. It lays out some of the most egregious examples of cuts, some already proposed by President Trump and some in congressional plans: Slashing Medicaid, ending the federal commitment to providing a minimum basic food benefit through SNAP, cutting other services for people with disabilities, children, workers, and seniors, and harshly undermining environmental and consumer protections.

The CHN letter further calls on Congress to remove the “unrealistic sequester cap” on domestic appropriations through a bipartisan agreement. In fact, Trump and congressional proposals to increase Pentagon spending beyond the existing cap cannot be achieved without a legislative change that must be bipartisan to pass; such an agreement must include increases to domestic spending and some international peace programs.

In this regard, there is overlap between what CHN and our allies are advocating for and the Tuesday Group. In their letter, the Tuesday Group calls upon congressional leaders – Republicans and Democrats – to reach an agreement on spending levels for FY 18. “In fact, absent such a bipartisan, bicameral agreement, we are reticent to support any budget resolution on the House floor,” the letter warns.

Over in the Senate, GOP leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, already acknowledged they will reach across the aisle to Democrats to increase spending beyond the existing budget caps.

It is looking increasingly clear that the only way Congress can act without doing grievous harm – and possibly the only way to take any action at all – is to work out a bipartisan agreement. Speaker Ryan has said he is open to a new bipartisan deal. The country can use one.

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