No Tough Choices

Republicans have avoided discussing the major sources of the deficit

As the two parties fight over America’s budget, Eric Cantor and the House Republicans have frequently mentioned the need to make “tough choices.” What many fail to realize is that Cantor and his party are not making any tough choices; rather, they are making ideological and unnecessary cuts in small but immensely valuable government programs, while avoiding the major sources of America’s fiscal problems. Namely, they have avoided discussion or consideration of rising Medicare costs, extremely low tax rates, and high defense spending, which far and away constitute the largest federal expenditures.

House Republicans have detailed $100 billion in cuts, mostly to domestic discretionary spending including the programs listed above, while avoiding the major sources of the long-term deficit; Medicare costs, defense spending, and low tax revenues. Allowing tax rates to return to Clinton-era levels would raise $226 billion over five years, while capping Medicare cost growth would be the largest possible source of long-term deficit savings, with $560 billion of savings over 30 years. Paul Ryan, the chair of the Budget Committee, once proposed a plan to cut entitlement costs; neither he nor the Republicans has mentioned that as of late. A serious plan to reduce the deficit would address these long-term entitlement and tax revenue issues, but Republicans have refused to even touch these issues despite claiming that they are ardent fiscal conservatives.

House Republicans have instead used the budget fight to achieve just about every political goal except substantially reducing deficits. The National Institute of Health funds the research and innovation that has spurred on America’s biomedical industry and led to major advances in medicine. Almost 1 million poor children benefit from the Head Start preschool program every year, learning integral skills that they would otherwise have no opportunity to gain. In their budget, House Republicans have proposed slashing the funding for these programs, as well as funding for science and research, high-speed rail, the Securities and Exchange commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, Americorps—all relatively small programs that millions of Americans benefit from everyday.

These small programs are essential to America’s current and future economic growth. On a direct level, the government is a major employer, and decreases in funding will immediately increase unemployment through the mechanism of layoffs. Indirectly, funds for projects including scientific research and high-speed rail employ private-sector employees, who depend on public sector contracts for employment. And when we look at our nation’s future, programs including Head Start, Pell Grants, and research and development are essential for developing our stock of human capital and creating a strong workforce. Goldman Sachs has estimated that the proposed cuts to these programs that provide essential jobs and services will set U.S. GDP growth back 1.5-2 percent this year, which would be devastating in the midst of a fragile recovery.

House Republicans have framed these budget decisions as crucial to reducing our deficit and strengthening the economic recovery. In reality, they do not address any of the long-term causes of our fiscal problems, and would bring our recovery to a grinding halt. These cuts tear at programs that make our society more just and that ensure America will be a smarter and better nation in a decade. These are government initiatives that affect the lives of every single American, and it is crucial that the public makes its voice heard if we want to stop these cuts from becoming the law in a few weeks’ time.

Ravi N. Mulani ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is an applied math concentrator in Winthrop House.