Although there is some question about the truth of the balanced budget, I remember the day that the White House Press Corps was called into the East Room for a ceremony marking "a balanced budget."
Buttons were given out, and the Clinton administration was in a great mood. Now, there has been some question about whether that budget was actually balanced, but CNN's fact check said the following when queried five years ago: "The U.S. government suffered budget deficits every year from 1970 through 1997. Democrat Bill Clinton was president in 1998, when the government finally recorded a surplus.There also were budget surpluses in 1999, 2000 and in 2001. 2001 was the last year the Clinton administration proposed the budget. Republican George W. Bush succeeded Clinton in 2001. The United States had a budget deficit in 2002, and it has recorded budget deficits every year since."
Now, with a budget deficit looming, the Republican-led Congress wants to tackle the deficit again by beginning to balance a budget now. Great idea, but what programs to choose for cuts is where the Democrats and the Republicans part company.
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Some have said means testing Medicare and Social Security is not fair, that people have earned those "benefits" and they should keep them. But why should people like Bill and Melinda Gates be eligible for those benefits if they don't need them? The medical establishment derided Medicare when it was first rolled out in 1965, but now it's considered an important piece of our health-care system in the U.S. If seniors (and I am now a senior) have access to health care, but those who have the means to pay more do, why not? We have a graduated income tax in the country, and there is no reason why senior health care can't be provided on the same basis. It would certainly help with the deficit.
A budget should also reflect the priorities of the citizens who fund it. This week, John McCain said, "As I have made clear, I will not support a budget resolution that sets defense spending at sequestration levels. Doing so would be a recipe for disaster for America's national security."
Is no limit on spending for the Pentagon what America wants? In a national priorities survey, 63 percent of Americans say we spend the right amount or too much on national security. According to the National Priorities Project, President Obama's budget proposes a Department of Defense budget of $534 billion in 2016, an increase of 7 percent relative to 2015, $38 billion above spending caps and the highest base Pentagon budget in history. However, Priorities says the Republican House proposed budget proposes $523 billion for the Department of Defense base budget in 2016, following Budget Control Act caps for Pentagon baseline budget for one year only, but sidesteps the 2016 cap through use of war funding. It calls for $387 billion over 10 years in funding above current law/caps for national defense. The Republican Senate budget has a similar number of $523 billion but again sidesteps the budget cap just like the House does. The sky, as they say, might be the limit.
Another area where there are vast differences between the Republicans and the progressive Democrats is in food-stamp program, or SNAP. According to National Priorities, the House GOP budget takes the food-stamp program back to the states in the form of a block grant. The GOP Senate Budget makes cuts to the SNAP program as well as to Medicaid without being specific as to where these cuts should be made. Polling the American people, National Priorities found that 70 percent of Americans do not want the food-stamp program to be cut.
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On Taxes, National Priorities found that 66 percent of Americans think corporations pay "too little in taxes." The Republican budget cuts the corporate tax rate. This lowering of the corporate tax rate has been touted as a plan to make America more competitive. However, without closing loopholes that allow these corporations to move money so they can avoid taxes, lowering the tax rate just grows the deficit and does nothing to keep the budget balanced.
There are ways the budget can be balanced, and there are ways to make America more competitive. Simply cutting the food-stamp program and cutting corporate taxes – while making the "beltway bandits" who design weapons systems richer – is not the way to achieve a budget that balances. There are better ways to do this while reflecting the priorities of most Americans.
Media wishing to interview Ellen Ratner, please contact [email protected].