The Congress is about to consider a proposal that is one of the worst I have ever seen in my years so far in Congress. This bill cuts a total of $50 billion for assistance to farmers, food assistance for the poor, student loan assistance, Medicaid, conservation funding, and help for people with disabilities. The Senate version of the bill even opens up ANWR to drilling.
The leadership of Congress says that these budget cuts will pay for the costs of rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. That is simply false. In fact, the bill has nothing to do with Katrina. These cuts to programs that are meant to help the poor are being pushed for one reason only: in order to allow $70 billion in new tax cuts, much of which goes to the wealthy. In other words, this bill robs the poor to feed the rich. And that is simply wrong.
Moderates from both parties have opposed this extreme plan, and I commend Maine's two Senators for voting "no" when the Senate considered the bill.
In fact, even leading clergy members recently joined together to rebuke this proposal as completely immoral. The Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, the Rev. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory, director of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Washington Office, held a press conference to denounce this bill.
In a bitter irony, the proponents of the bill even have the nerve to call it the "Deficit Reduction Act." If you cut spending by $50 billion but cut taxes for the wealthy by $70 billion, how exactly does that reduce the deficit? It doesn't really take an accountant to see that adds up to $20 billion more in debt.
We desperately need a return to fiscal responsibility in Congress. I truly believe that we can achieve it, working together. But cutting help for the poor while actually increasing the deficit makes a mockery of everything that those of us who have fought for balanced budgets for so many years believe in.
In fact, calling this bill "deficit reduction" is a very weak attempt at political spin from the same leaders that have created the deepest debt in history. Our national debt recently surpassed $8 trillion, after the Administration sent Congress three years of the highest record deficits in history. Much of our debt is now owned by our strategic competitors, like China, and no one can believe that that is good for America. All of that debt will have to be paid back eventually by our children: every baby born in the United States today will already owe over $27,000 in debt. Placing such a "birth tax" on the next generation is unconscionable.
Furthermore, the spin being used to justify these cuts - that they will be used for the rebuilding of the gulf coast - begs the question: if we are offsetting the cost to rebuild Biloxi, why aren't we finding ways to offset the cost of rebuilding Baghdad? Almost all of the funding for the war in Iraq has been proposed in "supplemental" bills that the Administration never counted in its budget estimates. And on top of that, how will cutting vital help for the poor do anything for the people who have been hurt by Katrina, who will rely on those very same programs?
Ultimately, this proposal is further evidence that the current leadership in Washington is not serious about fiscal discipline. We would not have been in this budget mess if the Congress had adopted sensible rules in the past three years to rein in our budget problems.
If we had enacted "Pay-As-You-Go" (PAY-GO) budget rules, which require that all new spending and tax cut proposals show how they will paid for without increasing the deficit, we would not be in this mess. But Congressional leaders have refused. Or, we could have followed the moderate Fiscal Year 2005 Blue Dog Coalition budget, which I co-authored, and which would have balanced the budget by 2012, rejected cuts to Medicaid, fully supported veterans, and eased the tax burden on middle class families.
I joined my colleagues on a bipartisan basis to write balanced budgets for twenty-two years in the Maine legislature, and I am a strong advocate for a return to fiscal responsibility in Congress. The American people deserve nothing less. Budgets are about priorities: and by trying to ram this proposal through the Congress, one that increases the deficit and cuts taxes for the wealthy on the backs of working people, the leaders in Washington have shown exactly where their priorities lie.