Head Smacker: Congress Insists on Cuts to Offset Emergencies and Food for Children but Not for Corporate Tax Breaks


March 18, 2016

headsmacker_sqCongress has been talking about the national debt and fiscal responsibility a lot lately, especially with the release of the House budget proposal this week. They insist that our deficit is out of control and that any additional spending – even for basic human needs like feeding hungry children or an emergency situation like the Flint water crisis – needs to be offset by cutting spending on some other program. Sadly, they usually look to other programs serving low-income Americans for these cuts.
The debt and fiscal responsibility are important. The head smacker, though, is that these same members of Congress see no need to offset corporate tax cuts that add billions to the federal deficit. Nor do they look at other options for offsets – raising revenues, for example, or cuts to defense spending.

Let’s look at some specifics.

The rate of opioid-related deaths quadrupled between 2002 and 2014, taking the lives of 78 people each day. But last month, the Senate rejected a proposal that would have provided $600 million in emergency supplemental funding to fight the crisis. So while the Senate passed a bill that authorizes actions to fight opioid abuse, it doesn’t actually provide any funding to do so.

Children and adults are being poisoned in Flint, Michigan, and in other communities with lead-contaminated water. The number of young children in Flint with elevated blood lead levels has doubled. But Congress still insists on finding cuts to pay for helping these children and their families, and some members are rejecting the cut that’s been proposed. If you haven’t yet done so, please urge your Senators to act now to help Flint families.

Congress has also yet to move on a request from the Obama Administration for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to combat the Zika virus in the U.S., insisting that any additional funding be made up for with cuts somewhere else. Major cuts to public health funding have already left health departments unable to deal with a serious outbreak of the Zika virus, which has a potentially disparate impact on low-income people.

House Speaker Paul Ryan summed up his party’s stance by saying, “We offset emergency spending.” But that’s not how it’s always been. Congress is legally allowed to provide funds for emergencies without having to pay for urgently needed services, and has done so many times in the past.

While not under the category of emergency spending, a bipartisan bill covering child nutrition programs, which includes a provision that would help some low-income families with children buy food in the summer when schools are closed, is headed for revisions because it’s not “budget-neutral,” meaning these investments in our children cost money.

And in the recent budget showdown, the House majority is insisting on paying for a spending increase agreed upon last fall – which was paid for at the time – again by pushing forward a package of cuts to Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Social Services Block Grant (which would be completely eliminated), low-income working immigrant families with (mostly citizen) children, individuals in prison, and more. In fact, the final package of cuts proposed will pay for the increased spending more than four times over.

But if some in Congress are so set on reducing the deficit at all costs, why is it that they didn’t show this concern last fall when these same folks approved a tax package of more than 50 mostly-corporate tax breaks with a cost $622 billion over 10 years? Some of these corporate breaks were made permanent, while others were extended for two or five years. None of these corporate giveaways were paid for. The “active financing exception” for example, which makes it easier for certain corporations to shelter income overseas, and will cost $78 billion over 10 years. Not paid for, even though it adds to the deficit.

They also don’t seem too concerned that Fortune 500 companies are avoiding up to $695 billion in U.S. federal income taxes – a source of revenue that could easily pay for the emergency spending requests, the child nutrition program changes, and many other programs for low-income people.

Some of the same members of Congress who pushed for these breaks are now the ones calling for cuts to low-income programs to reduce the deficit. How they can justify this to themselves and their constituents is a real head smacker.

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