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GOP Budget Widely Slammed, But Left's Proposal Just Ignored

House GOP budget a 'Stinkburger,' says Obama, but president and national media continue to ignore progressive budget alternative

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) answers constituents' questions this month in Kenosha, Wis. (Kevin Poirier / Associated Press / March 20, 2014)

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) answers constituents' questions this month in Kenosha, Wis. (Kevin Poirier / Associated Press / March 20, 2014)

The vision of a Republican budget was presented by Rep. Paul Ryan this week and the only thing some of his colleagues on the right don't like about it is that it doesn't do enough to punish the poor and working class while it coddles the rich and insulates corporate power.

For progressives, the Ryan latest budget—like those before it—represents a clear view into the Republican mindset in which austerity economics rule and the vision of shared prosperity is eviscerated by attacks on social programs, including Medicare, higher education grants, food and poverty assistance, job training initiatives and others.

Also familiar in the pattern of budget politics, however, is that while the Ryan budget—unpopular as it is among all sections of voters—receives round coverage, the progressive alternative, as contained in the Better Off Budget presented last month, continues to be ignored in the media conversation.

According to Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Ryan budget, dubbed by its author as a "Path to Prosperity," as anything but that for most Americans.

"Affluent Americans would do quite well," under the plan, said Greenstein in a statement, "but for tens of millions of others, the Ryan plan is a path to more adversity."

According to the CBPP analysis, the Ryan budget would:

  • Slash basic food aid provided by SNAP by at least $135 billion and convert the program to a block grant. The Ryan budget includes every major benefit cut in the harsh SNAP bill that the House passed in September, which CBO estimated would end benefits to 3.8 million low-income people in 2014.  The budget also would block-grant SNAP in 2019, with further steep funding cuts.  States would be left to decide whose benefits to cut — poor children, working-poor parents, seniors, people with disabilities, or others struggling to make ends meet.  They would have no good choices, as SNAP provides an average of only $1.40 per person per meal. 
  • Make it harder for low-income students to attend college.  Ryan proposes to cut Pell Grants by more than $125 billion over the next decade.  He would freeze the maximum grant for tenyears, even as college tuition costs continue to rise.  The maximum Pell Grant already covers less than a third of college costs, compared to more than half in earlier decades.  Yet under the Ryan budget, the grant would fall another 24 percent by 2024 in inflation-adjusted dollars.  (Some of that reduction is in the budget baseline, but Ryan would substantially enlarge it.)  He also would make some moderate-income students who get modest help from Pell Grants today entirely ineligible. 
  • Make massive unspecified cuts in a part of the budget in which low-income programs — including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which Ryan praised in his recent poverty report make up a substantial share of the expenditures.  His budget calls for at least $500 billion in cuts to mandatory programs other than Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, Pell Grants, farm programs, civil service programs, and veterans’ benefits.  A substantial share of spending in this category is for low-income programs, including the EITC, the low-income component of the Child Tax Credit, the school lunch and other child nutrition programs, and Supplemental Security Income, which helps very poor people who are elderly or have serious disabilities.

President Obama made headlines by calling Ryan's proposal a "stinkburger" on Wednesday, while Tea Party acolyte and former vice presidential GOP candidate Sarah Palin called the plan "a joke" because it didn't go far enough in eviscerating programs and slashing the budget.

But serious critics say the budget offered by Ryan should be seen for what it truly is, the Republican statement of values. And, they say, it's not pretty—especially when compared to the alternative vision represented by the recent budget proposal submitted by the Congressional Progressive Caucus last month, called the Better Off Budget.

Reporting on members of the CPC who gathered in the wake of the Ryan budget release to showcase the difference between the two approaches, the Campaign for America's Future Richard Long writes:

Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, actually in the neighboring district to Rep. Ryan and a member of the Budget Committee, said, “I think the biggest contrast (between the Better Off Budget and the Ryan Budget) is in the area of jobs, where it is almost a mirror opposite.” Pocan continued, “We invest in infrastructure, we invest in research and development, we invest in the extension of Unemployment insurance, we increase the minimum wage, doing the things that stimulate the economy and get more people working, creating 8.8 million jobs. The budget we are discussing today will cost the economy 3.3 million jobs.” It does this by cutting where the Better Off Budget invests.

“This budget is a pathway into poverty,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, also a member of the Budget Committee “The Ryan Budget cuts all the Great Society initiatives that have lifted people out of poverty.”

The Better Off Budget cuts $4.08 trillion off our deficit in ten years by asking those who can afford it to pay a little more. Some of these changes include increasing taxes on the wealthiest, capping the top tax rate at 49% for people making over $1 billion a year and a financial transactions tax, ending tax deferral on overseas profits and capping itemized deductions. Through these changes, the CPC believes it can raise more than $2 trillion over the next ten years.

“This budget distinguished itself from the Ryan Budget in many ways. This budget is about investment, this budget is about job creation, this budget is about stabilizing and enhancing Social Security, this budget is about immigration reform,” said Grijalva. “The Ryan budget is [a culmination of] the failed policies of the last six years, which takes America down the same path, further jeopardizing the economy of this nation.”


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