Yesterday, Senate Democrats proposed a plan to postpone across-the-board spending cuts — known inside the beltway as the “sequester” — that are currently scheduled to take effect in just two weeks, on March 1. The bill, called the American Family Economic Protection Act, includes $120 billion of savings — enough to replace the sequester through the end of calendar year 2013. 

Unlike the sequester, which reduces the deficit solely through deep spending cuts (on top of earlier spending cuts that are 2.5 times greater than new revenues), the American Family Economic Protection Act achieves savings from an equal amount of revenues and cuts (plus about $10 billion in interest savings). The bill would raise $54 billion over 10 years by adopting the “Buffett rule,” a measure that would ensure very wealthy taxpayers cannot get away with paying taxes at a lower effective rate than middle class families. Those with incomes above $1 million (after subtracting charitable contributions) would be required to pay at least a 30 percent tax rate, with a phase-in for incomes between $1 million and $2 million. An additional $1 billion in revenue would be raised by eliminating an oil industry tax loophole and a tax deduction for businesses that ship jobs overseas. 

On the spending side, savings in the bill would come mostly from modest reductions in the overall level of defense spending — which would not begin until FY 2015, when the war in Afghanistan is expected to end – and cuts in agriculture subsidies, especially direct payments to farmers that are currently provided regardless of yields, prices, or farm income.  

All in all, this sounds like a reasonable proposal to us — especially compared to the sequester, which would be devastating for many programs that women and their families depend on. For example, according to White House estimates, if the sequester takes effect:

  • 70,000 young children would lose access to Head Start and Early Head Start, programs that provide crucial early learning services to children in low-income families. Over 14,000 teachers, teacher assistants, and other staff could lose their jobs. (Take a look at this map to see how much child care and Head Start could be cut in your state.)
  • Jobs for 10,000 teachers would be at risk, and funding for up to 7,200 special education teachers, aides, and staff could be cut.
  • About 600,000 women and children would be dropped from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) from March through September. At least 1,600 state and local jobs could be lost as a result.
  • Long-term unemployed workers who rely on federal emergency unemployment benefits would see their benefits cut by an average of more than $400.
  • Elders, people with disabilities, and families who have lost a breadwinner will have to wait longer to get help from the Social Security Administration to access the benefits they have earned.

Much more revenue could be raised from the richest Americans and corporations — enough to replace the full ten years of the sequester. But the Senate Democrats’ bill is a good place to start. The bill is likely to come up for a vote in the Senate the week of February 25, when Congress returns from its President’s Day recess. Unfortunately, Republican leadership has maintained that any deal to replace sequestration cannot include revenue, supporting a cuts-only approach that protects tax breaks for millionaires and big business at the expense of low-income women and families. Let’s hope more Members of Congress get their priorities in order before March 1.