The GOP's Budget Strategy: Shared Sacrifice Without the Sharing

As a government shutdown looms, the federal budget process has been reduced to a temper tantrum in a china shop.
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As a government shutdown looms, the federal budget process has been reduced to a temper tantrum in a china shop. The House GOP has made it clear that they are willing to cause an economically disastrous shutdown in order to prove how little they like funding women's health care and how much they like protecting big polluters. As we careen toward a shutdown, it becomes absolutely clear beyond a doubt that the GOP does not care a whit about jobs and economic growth. But we should have already known that. Just remember what got us here.

The new Republican majority was swept into power with promises of "fiscal responsibility"... but backed by the bank accounts of corporate America. As a result, the "fiscal responsibility" they're proposing requires great sacrifices from ordinary Americans while letting large corporations and the wealthiest continue to benefit from the status quo. When these pro-corporate politicians talk about the need for "shared sacrifice," they're talking about individual Americans giving up education, clean drinking water, and cops on the streets. When they say they'll never raise taxes, they don't mean protecting middle class Americans from tax hikes --nobody's proposing to raise taxes on working families -- they're talking about letting multinational corporations keep their tax loopholes and letting the wealthiest sliver of Americans keep their massive, supposedly temporary, tax breaks.

The $61 billion in cuts that the GOP has proposed for the coming year would have required working Americans to bear the "fiscal responsibility" for the entire nation. They include huge cuts to education programs from Head Start to higher education Pell Grants. They include cuts to public safety programs that help keep cops on the street in local communities and drinking water clean. They do not, however, include any sacrifices from oil and gas companies, the financial industry, or huge corporations like G.E., which stunningly did not pay a cent in federal taxes last year. The huge tax cuts that George W. Bush handed to the wealthiest Americans will not be touched.

It looks like the GOP will now "settle" for about $35 billion in cuts to essential programs this year. But they could still cut double that amount from the deficit -- more than their original $61 billion -- in a way that involves real "fiscal responsibility" and "shared sacrifice." Here are a few ideas:

Getting rid of Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans (those earning more than $250,000 per year) would save the country about $65 billion -- well over the total amount the GOP is hoping to chop from the deficit. But why stop there? According to Citizens for Tax Justice, charging banks a fee for taking excessive risks with their clients' money -- risks like those that led to the 2008 financial meltdown -- would help cut $8.2 billion from the deficit in 2011. Closing loopholes that allow corporations to shelter their income in foreign banks would bring in $6.9 billion. Eliminating the massive tax breaks now enjoyed by oil and gas companies would yield $2.6 billion.

But instead of taking these common-sense steps to make sure that large corporations and the wealthiest Americans make their share of our "shared sacrifice," Republicans in Congress have proposed a patchwork of cuts that would make tiny dents in the deficit while causing huge amounts of hurt for the people who depend on them -- slashing the Head Start program, drastically reducing Pell Grants to college students, cutting down on food safety programs, taking away housing options for people with disabilities, taking cops off the streets in local communities... even defunding tsunami warning centers.

It looks like the GOP won't get their full program-smashing wish list in the current year's budget. But now Rep. Paul Ryan is trying to take these mixed-up priorities even further, proposing a budget for the 2012 fiscal year that includes dramatic cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, while preserving massive giveaways for corporations and the wealthy. Ryan has made no secret of his contempt for these programs that help millions of Americans get urgent medical care and stay financially solvent. He dismisses Medicaid as "welfare" -- although it benefits 58 million Americans, mostly children, the elderly, and the disabled. And he proposes pulling the financial rug out from under Medicare, which benefits nearly every American senior citizen. Belittling the importance of these programs exposes the truth behind the GOP's game plan -- they are trying to downplay the needs of individual Americans, while vigorously protecting the welfare that they hand out to those with the biggest bank accounts.

Corporations and the wealthy are of course entitled to their earnings as much as all Americans. But they also must do their part to pay for the basic services that ensure that all Americans have access to health, security, and opportunity.

At a time when income inequality in the U.S. is at an all-time high, GOP leaders are playing reverse Robin-Hoods, milking working Americans for cash and handing it over to the wealthiest -- and they're willing to shut down the government if they don't get their way. That's not fiscal responsibility. It's fiscal, and moral, recklessness.

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