The super-committee could not agree on a plan to cut the deficit by $1.2 to $1.5 trillion. Some in the media are calling it a failure – but we’re relieved that there were members who rejected plans that were unbalanced and unfair. Here are five reasons why:
- The most immediate deficit the nation faces is the lack of jobs—and further spending cuts would have made that deficit worse.
Yes, the nation faces a long-term fiscal imbalance. But the most urgent economic problem is unemployment. Since the “recovery” started in June 2009, the job market has made only modest gains— unemployment is still at 9 percent—and women have actually lost jobs, largely because cuts to public sector services have disproportionately eliminated jobs held by women. More spending cuts would have meant more job losses. In contrast, providing more help to struggling families boosts the economy, and thus can help reduce long-term deficits. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that extending emergency unemployment insurance and providing additional refundable tax credits in 2012 for lower and moderate-income people “would have the largest effects on output and employment per dollar of budgetary cost.” And growing the economy reduces the fiscal deficit as well as the jobs deficit; workers with jobs need less from safety net programs and pay more in taxes.
- Millionaires and billionaires don’t need more tax cuts.
The plan proposed by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), a super-committee member, was described by some as a breakthrough that put tax revenues on the table—but it would have given large tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires on top of the Bush tax cuts. It would have lowered the tax rate for the highest-income taxpayers to 28 percent, down from 39.6 percent under current law and 35 percent if the Bush tax cuts were extended. The tax rate cuts would give the average millionaire a tax cut 100 times larger than the tax cut for a family earning $50,000-75,000 annually. The cost of these tax rate cuts would be borne by lower- and middle-income households, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains. The proposal would have limited tax expenditures that provide significant benefits to lower- and middle-income people, such as the Child Tax Credit and exclusion of health insurance premiums, while the preferential treatment of capital gains and dividends, which overwhelmingly benefits the richest taxpayers, would be protected. In short, the Toomey plan would give millionaires and billionaires more tax cuts, while lower- and middle-income families would bear the burden of deficit reduction through higher taxes and cuts to vital services.
- Cutting the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment would have especially hurt elderly women.
The super-committee was considering changing the way the cost-of-living adjustment was calculated for Social Security and other programs. We’ve explained that the proposed new measure of inflation, the “chained CPI,” is not a more accurate measure of inflation, but simply a benefit cut—and a triple whammy for women. First, the cuts from the reduced COLA get deeper with each year of benefit receipt, and women tend to live longer than men. (Among people 90 and older, women outnumber men three to one.) Second, elderly women have less income than elderly men, and rely more on Social Security, so the cuts represent a larger share of their total income. Third, elderly women are already more economically vulnerable than men, with a poverty rate nearly one and three-quarters times that of men, and the cuts from the chained CPI would seriously reduce their ability to meet their basic needs.
- Cutting Medicaid and Medicare would have threatened women’s health.
The super-committee was looking at cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid and Medicare, two programs critical to women’s health. In 2007 nearly seven in ten elderly individuals who relied on Medicaid for assistance were women, and nearly eight in ten non-elderly adults – mostly pregnant women and low-income parents – were women. Women also comprise a majority of beneficiaries in Medicare, the federal program that funds basic health care services for 47 million individuals who are elderly and/or have disabilities. Because women, on average, are poorer, live longer and have more health care needs than men, Medicare (sometimes combined with Medicaid) potentially plays a greater role for them in preventing illness and destitution.
- There are no immediate consequences from the super-committee’s failure to reach an agreement, so there’s time for Congress to act responsibly.
What happens now that a majority of the super-committee failed to agree on a plan? As we’ve explained, under the Budget Control Act, automatic cuts are scheduled, but the cuts will not start to take effect until January 2013 –over a year from now. Defense and non-defense programs would be cut equally. Certain mandatory safety net programs, including Social Security, Medicaid, SNAP/Food Stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and mandatory child care spending, are exempt from automatic cuts, and automatic cuts to Medicare are limited. All discretionary spending programs, including those specifically serving low-income people such as WIC and Head Start, would be subject to automatic cuts. However, Congress could pass legislation changing the rules through the regular legislative process before the automatic cuts take effect.