This week, a bipartisan committee chaired by Republican Paul Ryan and Democrat Patty Murray struck a deal and the House passed a two-year budget proposal. The press, the White House and many Democrats praised the deal as a “compromise” and a “good first step.”
If you didn’t know the details, you might think that this was positive news coming out of Washington, DC. After all, it was just a couple of months ago that we won an important battle when Democratic leaders stood up to Republican hostage taking and the result was the total collapse of the Republicans’ dangerous and reckless attempt to shut down government and tank the economy.
Republicans and Democrats alike are trumpeting this plan as a compromise that reduces the deficit without raising taxes. Now that the House has passed the two-year budget bill with none of the tantrums and drama of recent fights, the Senate plans to take up the legislation Tuesday where it will likely pass after a Republican filibuster attempt.
You’ll hear a lot of Republicans calling this a bad deal. But the budget proposal is actually not really even a “compromise” let alone a bad deal from their point of view. In fact, it’s a big win for Republicans. Military spending goes up. Unemployment benefits for nearly 1.3 million Americans go away. Incredibly, this budget boasts spending levels lower than the original Paul Ryan budget.1
What is wrong with this Congress?
We went into this negotiation with big momentum from Democrats’ victory this fall. What happened to standing strong? Where did our hard won leverage go?
If you look at the details of this deal, you’ll see that we raised zero revenue by closing tax loopholes for billionaires or by trimming corporate welfare programs. Instead, the budget deal slashes retirement benefits for federal workers. And through its inaction, the budget conference committee effectively cut off emergency unemployment benefits for nearly 1.3 million out-of-work Americans three days after Christmas.
Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it was “absolutely unconscionable” for Congress to go on vacation without approving extension of emergency unemployment benefits. We agree.
We find ourselves in a long term budget fight that revolves in large part around the across-the-board spending cuts known as “the sequester.” The sequester has led to indiscriminate cuts to everything – from vital social programs that should be better funded to the bloated Pentagon budget that should be the target of even further cutbacks.
If you remember, in 2011 – despite opposition from CREDO members and other progressives – Democrats agreed to a process that led first to the dangerous farce that was called “the Super Committee.” Then, when the Super Committee failed because Republicans refused to take Democrats up on their offer to cut programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in exchange for modest increases in revenue, an across-the-board sequester was imposed. This sequester has been slashing government spending at a time when the government needed to be spending more money to bring us out of our economic downturn and get people back to work.
Automatic sequester cuts to military spending is one of the few points of leverage Democrats have to force Republicans to agree to common sense proposals like rolling back tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations and passing vital economic recovery legislation such as extending emergency unemployment insurance benefits for those who lost their jobs after Wall Street caused the mortgage meltdown and crashed our economy.
This latest deal – soon to be ratified in the Senate with the only real opposition coming from Republican extremists who would prefer to continue the hostage-taking tactics of previous fights – gives conservatives what they want. Letting sequestered funds flow back to the military (albeit with equal money released to domestic programs) without getting any substantial revenue concessions in return. A win for Republicans, a win for the Pentagon, and a loss for regular Americans.
In October, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama stood up to Republican hostage takers, they showed that we could start reining in Republicans by standing strong in these negotiations. In the aftermath of that hard-won battle we wrote you that the bigger victory would come when Democrats embraced this winning strategy in future fights – and when Democrats stood strong not only when they are on defense but also by going on offense for our progressive priorities.
That bigger victory was nowhere in sight this week. This deal has passed the House, will almost certainly pass the Senate, and Congress will head home for the holiday break. If there is any bright spot in this deal, it’s that a so-called “grand bargain” and cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits are dead for now – and that comes as a result of a ferocious grassroots campaign to force Democrats to hold the line.
Going forward, there is much work to be done to fight for our priorities, raise revenues by making corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share, and continue to defend Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security from benefit cuts. But for now the most important thing we can do is pressure Congress to extend emergency unemployment benefits for 1.3 million out-of-work Americans, as Rep. Keith Ellison has called on Speaker John Boehner to do.
The fight continues. Thank you for your activism.
Becky Bond, Political Director
CREDO Action from Working Assets