A federal budget that works for women and families

Jul 8, 2013

The summer of 2013 is shaping up to be anything but slow in the news department. Last week alone, the US Supreme Court issued three huge rulings and the US Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform.

And hopefully this is just the beginning and Congress will take the opportunity to stay inside amidst the heat and humidity in Washington DC, and get down to business.  (Because) They have a hefty to-do list between the sequester, the federal budget, and tax reform. So, in a Congress where legislating and non-partisanship are not their strong suit, let’s hope that it turns out to be a scorer of a summer in our nation’s capitol.

But first, let’s remind ourselves how we got here.

In 2011, we had a fierce partisan fight over raising our country’s debt limit and Congress passed the Budget Control Act, which not only raised the debt ceiling, it cut 900 billion over ten years, but also created the ill-fated super committee and the subsequent across the board spending cuts that we now call “sequestration.”

The cuts in “sequestration” were meant to be so clunky and such a bad way to balance a budget, that there was no way that Congress would let it stand.

Well, they were wrong. So, earlier this year we found ourselves standing on the so called “fiscal cliff,” a combination of those automatic across the board spending cuts, and also some tax increases (you may have noticed that your paycheck got smaller because you started paying more in payroll taxes again this year).

Today, we are four months into the sequester, Congress and the President need to soon agree on appropriations for our budget that begins on October 1st, and once again we are inching toward the debt ceiling.  

In addition, last week, our own Senator Baucus, chairman of the Finance Committee, along with Senator Orrin Hatch, Ranking Member of the Committee, began outlining their efforts to create sweeping reforms of our tax code. They are taking a “blank slate” approach, get rid of the countless expenditures and loopholes in our tax code, start from scratch and build anew.

Sequestration, the federal budget, and now tax reform. These are big and complicated policy discussions and can feel a little overwhelming, but if Congress is going to get them done, they are going to need to hear from us. So, here are a few clear principles that should lead these policy discussions and drive outcomes as Congress sets out on their to-do list.

1: We need to raise revenue. 2: We need invest in the programs and services that strengthen our families and communities. 3: We need to move beyond the ideology of spending cuts and deficit reduction and start building for our future in this country.

Revenue: We can’t balance the budget on cuts alone. We need to ask wealthy individuals and corporations, who can afford to pay more, to put a little more money in. Most recently we heard about our friends at Apple who over four years earned 30 billion dollars and managed to pay no income tax.

It is high time we get rid of loopholes and tax breaks for corporations and wealthy Americans. Since 2011, we have seen $3.6 billion in deficit reduction over the next decade, with 80% of that reduction coming from spending cuts, and only 20% from revenue increases.

These spending cuts and deficit reductions are damaging Montana communities. Right now, Head Start programs across our state are turning children away, laying off workers, and making it harder than ever for hardworking low-income families to get by. Head Start allows parents go to school or work, helps families make ends meet, makes our communities strong, and our economy stronger. But denying low-income kids access to an early education program that is proven to help close the achievement gap, is just the tip of the iceberg of cuts that include education, job training programs, work-study, meals on wheels, and the list goes on and on.

Revenue allows us to make investments in the program and services that we know make our families, communities, and state stronger. This cuts centric approach means that we are not only hurting children and families today but are also setting ourselves back in the long run.

For example, we know that the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit not only help working poor families make ends meet at tax-time, but they improve children’s school performance and future success, and every year, lift about 15,000 Montana kids out of poverty. This is a smart investment that should be strengthened.

Our federal deficit has been used to justify an all-access pass to make cuts to programs and services. And right now, we are seeing some of the fastest deficit reductions in our nation’s history, when so many families and communities are still far from recovered from the great Recession.

So, at a time when we are celebrating the history and promise of America, let’s be bold and dare to invest in our country, our communities, our people. Let’s dare to invest in our future through education, infrastructure, jobs, access to health care, and the programs and services that ensure that nobody on your street or in your community has to fall through the cracks.

This summer, I will be watching the weather in Washington and hoping that Congress has not other option but to stay inside and get to work.

I’m Olivia Riutta with Montana Women Vote. Thanks for listening and I hope you have a fabulous holiday weekend.