The nation’s budget deficit, it appears, has become the fashionable political obsession of the day. In this trend, Congressional Republicans, owning up to a long history of using vital and dynamic social programming as a political bludgeon, have proposed a series of devastating cuts affecting those Americans who need government assistance the most. The scope of proposed Republican cuts targets only the small fraction of the federal budget that covers domestic discretionary spending and the cuts there are dramatic and reprehensible. It is now the responsibility of Senate Democrats and of President Obama to show their support for American communities by opposing these cuts.
The Republican budget proposal released by House Appropriations Committee Chairman, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky) includes sweeping cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and a slew of other federal agencies critical to public health and safety. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be entirely eliminated. The much-lauded Pell Grant Program, which funds college educations for low-income students, is also slated for steep reductions. Defense spending has, predictably, not only avoided cuts, but is actually slated to increase. And, just in case one was tempted to think Republicans could keep their Culture Wars out of the national budget, Rogers’ proposal also includes the complete defunding of Planned Parenthood.
Perhaps the most egregious elements of the budget proposal, though, are direct cuts to American communities. Among these is the complete elimination of funding for the AmeriCorps program. Less than two years ago, in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, Congress quadrupled the size of AmeriCorps, lauding its effectiveness and the incredible work its volunteers performed by engaging with the country’s most vulnerable communities. All that seems forgotten now, as programs like Teach for America, City Year, and Citizen Schools–all of which are popular and innovative postgraduate choices for Harvard seniors–face elimination.
Community Development Block Grants, which provide incredibly far-reaching and critical support for America’s urban areas, also face steep reductions. In Boston alone, the block grant-funded Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) provides for housing, heating, fuel assistance, elderly services, health care access, and educational support to add to a long list of other vital community services. ABCD cuts even stand to affect the student-run programs of Harvard’s Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA), which engages over 1,600 Harvard undergraduates in over 80 service programs throughout Boston and Cambridge. Large and well-known campus programs like the Summer Urban Program (SUP), which uses ABCD youth development grants to pay its summer counselors, and the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, which works closely with housing assistance and homelessness prevention initiatives funded by ABCD, stand to be heavily impacted along with other programs.
In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama declared, to bipartisan applause, “We do big things.” But the notion that this nation, founded by farmers and minutemen battling an empire in the name of unprecedented freedoms, that won two World Wars and secured a global peace, that landed a man on the moon and inspired mankind, cannot support our own communities and our fellow citizens is small and sad. And we are not, as Republicans are so fond of announcing, broke. Paying taxes at the lowest rates since 1950, however, will not support this country’s future. Both Republicans and Democrats need to grow up and stop using ever-increasing tax cuts for short-lived political gain. If this budget proposal should, by some means, be approved in whole, or even in large-part, the results will be devastating for all Americans. We are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. Winning the future, as President Obama recently challenged, starts with providing responsible support for our cities, our neighborhoods, and our children.
Jacob J. Cedarbaum ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is a History & History of Art and Architecture concentrator in Currier House and is the PBHA Advocacy and Housing Programming Group Officer.