After securing significant improvements in policies to help lower-income women and families in 2009 and 2010, it’s clear that we’ll have to fight hard over the next two years to protect those gains and prevent programs vital to women and their families from being slashed.
Already the refrain we’re hearing from some on Capitol Hill is starting to get old: to rein in the federal deficit, Congress needs to cut spending. Just this weekend, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) declared that “Washington has an illness,” “[t]he illness is spending,” and [t]he debt is a symptom of that illness.” Calls for deep and indiscriminate cuts in federal spending ignore the critical role that government spending—especially the increased spending under the Recovery Act—played in preventing poverty from rising in 2009, under an alternative poverty measure that takes tax credits and noncash benefits such as SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) into account.
Blaming the debt entirely on spending ignores the fact that there are two sides to the ledger—revenues and expenditures—and tax cuts have been the single greatest contributor to the reemergence of large budget deficits in recent years. Notwithstanding the new House leadership’s purported commitment to deficit reduction, the new House budget rules enshrine this lopsided treatment of spending and revenues by requiring any increase in mandatory spending (such as restoring the funds cut from child support enforcement and SNAP, reinstating the TANF emergency fund, or boosting mandatory funding for child care) to be paid for with a cut in other mandatory spending while allowing any and all tax cuts to pass the House without being paid for.
An imbalanced approach to deficit reduction may also be emerging on the Senate side, where Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) intend to introduce a plan based on the report from the co-chairs of the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles. As we reported upon its release, the Simpson-Bowles plan represents a flawed framework for deficit reduction that relies far too heavily on cuts to programs that are vital to the economic security of women and their families, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Because women especially rely on Social Security the cuts proposed by the co-chairs—which would raise the retirement age, reduce the cost-of-living adjustment, and cut the benefit formula—would disproportionately harm women.
Overall, only one-quarter of the nearly $3.9 trillion in deficit reduction that the Simpson-Bowles plan claims to achieve by the end of the decade would come from revenue increases. An approach that radically favors spending cuts over revenue-raising measures threatens our country’s ability to invest in the very programs that are most likely to lead to long-term economic growth (and lower deficits), including child care and early education programs that help children prepare for success in school and help parents to be productive at work.
With unemployment still well above 9 percent and job growth nearly nonexistent for women, the 112th Congress must prioritize measures that promote job creation and economic security. Fiscal responsibility calls for eliminating egregious tax expenditures and requiring the wealthiest to pay their fair share of taxes, not curtailing federal investments in our recovery. In the long term, it is critical that Congress develop balanced deficit reduction proposals that recognize the need for additional revenue from a fair and responsible tax system and avoid harm to vulnerable families who can least afford to sacrifice.
In this challenging political environment, NWLC will be fighting to:
- Block budgets and “deficit reduction” plans that slash spending on programs important to women and their families while continuing irresponsible and unfair tax policies.
- Protect and strengthen Social Security.
- Protect child care investments and build support for expanding access to high-quality, affordable child care.
And we’ll stand ready to address other threats—and take advantage of new opportunities—to improve economic security for women and their families.