Immoral Choices in the House GOP Budget
Budgets, as Rev. Jim Wallis says, are moral documents. They contain choices that reflect our priorities and define our values. The Republican-led House Budget Committee’s FY2016 budget proposal, “A Balance Budget For A Stronger America,” is a document full of immoral choices that will have devastating impacts on the most vulnerable Americans.
The proposal is short on specifics and covers little new ground. House Budget Committee Chair Tom Price (R, Georgia) previewed the proposal’s focus on balancing the budget, and $5.5 trillion in spending cuts, in a speech at a Heritage Foundation event in January. Most of the rest borrows heavily from Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R. Wisconsin) budgets.
Repealing the Affordable Care Act
This week we learned that 16.4 million Americans have gained health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare has reduced the number of uninsured Americans by one third in just five years, and led to a spike in healthcare jobs over the past year. It did’t “bankrupt our nation,” “ruin the economy,” kill the private insurance industry, cost the economy “2.5 million jobs minimum,” bring about “the end of America as you know it,” or fulfill any of conservatives’ embarrassing predictions.
The House Republican budget “repeals Obamacare in its entirety.” The proposal promises “a patient-centered approach to health care reform,” but Republicans still have no alternative or replacement for Obamacare that comes close to what the health reform law has accomplished. Besides, repeal isn’t going to happen as long as the guy it’s named for is in office.
Medicare And Medicaid
Republicans are still attacking Medicare and Medicaid. The House Republican budget turns Medicare into a voucher program. As with previous budgets, it’s called “premium support,” but it’s the same voucher Republicans have proposed as a replacement for the longstanding Medicare guarantee. It won’t keep pace with increasing health care costs, and will pass those costs on to the elderly.
The House Republican budget turns Medicaid in to a block grant program that, “grants flexibility to states so the program can better serve those who it is intended to benefit.” Called “State Flexibility Funds” here, block grants are Republicans’ way of gutting Medicaid funding, and then handing what’s left to the states with “no strings attached.” States then use this “flexibility” to trim Medicaid rolls by tightening eligibility requirements, thus freeing up block grant funds for other uses. (For example, a new measure in Arizona requiring Medicaid recipients to be employed would kick 500,000 low-income people off of Medicaid.)
In previous years, House Republicans voted to cut funding for food stamps by $40 billion over ten years, while voting to extend farm subsidies for themselves. The House Budget Committee’s FY2016 proposal turns the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) into a “State Flexibility Fund.” As with Medicaid, block-grants give states the “flexibility” to increase eligibility requirements, reduce the number of food stamp recipients, and free up those federal dollars for other uses.
Republicans claim all of these cuts, plus many more, are necessary to balance the budget in response to a manufactured “deficit crisis.” Yet the House Republican budget increases defense spending. The House Republican budget cuts spending for programs like SNAP, Medicare, and Medicaid, while using a budgetary slight of hand to exempt the military from sequestration spending cuts, and shifts tens of billions of dollars to an already bloated Pentagon budget.
- A 2013 Reuters report revealed epic waste at the Pentagon, and portrayed the Pentagon as unable to keep track of its immense stores of weapons. Nearly $8.5 trillion in tax dollars given to the Pentagon remains unaccounted for.
- The Ferguson police department’s paramilitary response to unrest, following the shooting death of Michael Brown , it revealed that the Pentagon has such a surplus of weapons of war that it gives them away to police departments.
The proposal to increase defense spending has sown division in Republican ranks. Defense hawks and budget hawks are squaring over what they perceive as a defining moral choice: smaller government or a strong defense? However, Republicans have already defined themselves by the immoral choices in the House Republican budget. No budget that takes from the poor, the sick, and the elderly, and gives to the Pentagon can be a moral document.