Deficit Reduction, Job Creation, Family Economic Security Shouldn’t Be Mutually Exclusive
March 25, 2011
"Both Democrats and Republicans have said the budget shouldn't be balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable. This should be a key principle in budget negotiations, not a talking point."
Congress will return to Washington next week with a final vote on the federal budget for fiscal year 2011 still hanging over their heads.
By now, it's well known that the House had proposed dramatic cuts to the tune of $61 billion to domestic, non-defense discretionary programs. The Senate rightly rejected this bill, which would have slashed early education, job training, postsecondary education, nutrition assistance for women and children, and home heating programs for low-income people.
Now, there is some hint that lawmakers are willing to compromise and put this year's budget behind them. On March 19, a bi-partisan group of 64 Senators sent a letter to the president asking for his leadership in deficit reduction, indicating tax reform, spending cuts and entitlement reform should all be on the table. And political insiders recently reported that lawmakers are trying to find middle ground on the FY2011 budget so they can move on to the budget for fiscal year 2012, which begins this year on Oct. 1.
The current Continuing Resolution expires April 8, and it is unclear, despite this talk of compromise, whether lawmakers will come to agreement by then. Regardless of what happens, lawmakers already have set the tone on their intent for federal spending beyond 2011. The tenor of the debate thus far is troubling.
First of all, purporting to begin restoring balance to the nation's budget by solely focusing on domestic, non-defense, discretionary programs is disingenuous at best. These programs collectively account for about 12 percent of the federal budget. Cutting these programs will barely whittle away at the deficit, but it will come at a significant cost, especially for children and families.
Those intent on cutting have as much acknowledged this, but insist that the nation "has to start somewhere."
The problem with where they are starting is that it disproportionately affects Main Street Americans, especially the most vulnerable among us. We agree that a key to the nation's long-term prosperity will be getting its house in order and its revenue and spending in line.
But we fundamentally disagree that starting "somewhere," should be cutting programs that make families stronger and aid the most vulnerable. Starting "somewhere" should not mean 218,000 children lose Head Start services that can help them build a stronger foundation for their future. We disagree that "somewhere" should be a program that can help low-skill or dislocated workers get the skills they need to land employment. We disagree that starting "somewhere" should be programs such as Pell grants that provide financial assistance for low-income students to access postsecondary education. We disagree that "starting somewhere" should mean that more than 161,00 poor Americans , including domestic violence victims, veterans, and elderly victims of foreclosure scams, should go without the services of an attorney to help them. And we disagree that a program that meets the nutritional needs of half the nation's infants should be cut in the name of restoring balance to the budget.
If we do not adequately invest in programs that provide critical early education opportunities for children, help people go to work with the right skills and knowledge, help families meet their nutritional needs and put food on the table at night, we will be cutting critical lifelines for families and impeding our nation's economic recovery.
Spending on federal programs is more than numbers in a spreadsheet. Behind the numbers are people for whom these programs enhance quality of life and provide opportunity.
What about jobs?
Just as disturbing as is this drive to cut domestic programs is the lack of focus on job creation. Last summer and fall, Congress weighed several measures designed to put Americans back to work. At the time, unemployment hovered around 10 percent. The official unemployment rate has fallen in recent months and now stands at 8.9 percent, which is still significantly higher than it was at the start of the recession in December 2007.
In spite of this, lawmakers have turned their attention away from putting Americans back to work. In fact, the House proposal called for cuts in Workforce Investment Act (WIA) programs that help unemployed and underemployed youth and adults gain the skills and connections they need to access jobs that pay family-sustaining wages.
Such cuts are senseless and ultimately would hinder our ability to put our communities and all of our families on a sound economic footing. Many workers, especially those with the least skills and education, have lost jobs that will not return even when the economy begins creating more jobs. Youth currently are experiencing historically high unemployment rates, which will disadvantage them into the future.
We need a plan for inclusive economic recovery as we figure out how to create jobs and reduce the deficit. Full employment and poverty reduction are the best deficit reduction strategies.
Defining our shared values
Both Democrats and Republicans have said the budget shouldn't be balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable. This should be a key principle in budget negotiations, not a talking point. The tenor of the conversation should shift away from draconian domestic program cuts to a broader, fairer discussion about job creation, making sure the continuing recovery is inclusive, and ensuring the nation's fiscal health without slashing fundamental programs that provide opportunity, alleviate poverty and make the nation's families more secure.