This Week’s Congressional Leadership Budget Proposals: A Roadmap to Nowhere for Low-Income Individuals and Families

The budget proposals offered this week by the U.S. House and Senate are important statements by Republican leaders about their values and priorities for our country. These proposals serve as roadmaps for how policymakers believe government can get from where we are today to where they would like the nation to be down the road.

The proposals both begin with the stated goals of rewarding hard work and promoting jobs and a strong economy. But a look at the fine print shows that the roadmap presented by these budget proposals doesn’t square with that rhetoric about hard work and economic security; in fact, it takes us on a U-turn in the other direction. The 2016 fiscal year budget proposals, which total about $3.8 trillion, strike down the very supports individuals and families struggling to become part of the middle class need to find and keep good jobs, raise thriving children, and lift themselves out of poverty—not to mention the supports middle-class families need to avoid falling backwards.

Taken as a whole, these budgets would also weaken—almost beyond repair—the country’s remaining safety net, thereby reducing opportunities for millions of children and youth in poor and low-income families. That means curtailing good jobs and economic security into the next generation, causing deep damage not only to the young people whose future is compromised but also to the American economy that needs the next generation of healthy and well-educated workers.

Here’s a quick glance at some of the ways these proposals damage work and opportunity:

  • Repealing the Affordable Care Act, which has expanded coverage to more than 16 million Americans since its enactment.
  • Freezing the maximum Pell Grant award at $5,775 for the next 10 years (as proposed by House Republicans), no matter what happens to college costs, at a time when a Congressional majority has said clearly that postsecondary education is crucial to job success.
  • Making deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which research has shown improves children’s long-run health and economic success, and then, in the House Republican proposal, block granting it to states.
  • Slashing Medicaid by more than $900 billion over the next decade in the House Republican proposal, including through the use of block grants.
  • Allowing the expiration of improvements to refundable tax credits that are designed to help low-income workers and have been shown to increase work hours, thus pushing 16 million people into (or deeper into) poverty.
  • Cutting non-defense spending even below the levels required by sequestration, while using budgetary gimmicks to bust the caps on defense spending. This will force major cuts in everything from child care and early education to job training to housing, as well as food safety and research to fight disease.

Both the House and Senate proposals map out a 10-year plan that purportedly achieves a federal balanced budget through massive cuts to discretionary spending and to other programs serving low-income people. Yet the plan envisions no new revenues and includes tax breaks in the House proposal for corporations and wealthy individuals. The proposals also keep in place the constraints of the indiscriminate cuts required by the sequester for 2016 and then deepen those cuts by hundreds of billions of dollars in the next nine years for non-defense discretionary programs (including such important areas as child care and early education, job training and workforce development, and education).

What’s Next?

House and Senate leaders are hoping to bring their resolutions to the floor for a vote by the end of March. Budget resolutions do not actually change policy or spending on their own. However, if the two chambers are able to bridge the differences between their bills, it will set into place special rules known as “reconciliation” that make it harder for Senators to slow down or block legislation that makes major changes to tax policy or entitlement programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and SNAP.

Republicans have advanced budget proposals like this in the past. Last year, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) proposed many of the same ideas in his budget resolution. What’s different now is that Republicans control both the House and Senate, so there's a chance they could pass a combined bill and open the door to reconciliation.

Democrats and Republicans generally both agree that our country’s roadmap should lead to a strong economy where people can work and earn family-sustaining wages. However, the 2016 roadmap proposed by the Republican leadership does not lead to opportunity for all. By weakening the ladder that can help poor and low-income families achieve economic security, these budget proposals jeopardize both today’s workforce and the future generations on whom our country’s success depends.