In the spirit of the holiday season, Congress should set aside dysfunction and the austerity mindset and give the American people a reason to be thankful: a federal spending and revenue plan that takes our best interests to heart.
In late November, House Appropriations Committee leaders warned the budget conference committee that failing to reach agreement on top-line budget numbers by Dec. 2 could have “extremely damaging repercussions.” Those repercussions included another possible government shutdown, a requirement to budget by continuing resolution, and an inability to prevent further sequestration cuts to critical federal programs.
Dec. 2 came and went, and still the budget committee deliberated. It was just the latest in a long line of critical budget dates that Congress sailed past without delivering.
Is it any wonder that the latest poll from The Economist/YouGov shows that only 6 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress handles its job?
Americans deserve representatives in Congress who take seriously their role as stewards of the people’s business. We deserve a federal budget that reflects Americans’ priorities for how our tax dollars are spent. And while Congress may have a hard time agreeing on anything these days, Americans agree on a surprising number of priorities.
National polls routinely indicate that Americans want Social Security strengthened, with 82 percent choosing to preserve benefits even if it means raising taxes. Lawmakers should listen to the American people and eliminate the $113,700 limit on earnings subject to Social Security taxes to help preserve the program for future generations.
When asked to name the most important issue facing the country, Americans routinely point to the U.S. health care system and its high cost. Congress should explore systems such as “bundled payments,” where health care providers receive payments for overall patient care rather than for each procedure or test. Doing so can cut costs by as much as 15 to 20 percent.
When it comes to the Pentagon, most Americans favor cuts. The U.S. will spend an astounding $653 billion on the military in 2014, more than 56 percent of the entire discretionary budget. Congress should heed the advice of the bipartisan task force that found $1 trillion in fat over the next 10 years hiding in the Pentagon budget—and start cutting.
Sixty-six percent of Americans want tax loopholes closed for the wealthy and 80 percent want to increase taxes on big corporations so the revenue can be used to shrink the federal budget deficit. In 2013, offshore corporate profits cost the U.S. Treasury $42 billion in revenue. That’s five times as much as the total cost of the early childhood program, Head Start. The capital gains tax break cost a whopping $83 billion, or more than the entire food stamp program. Congress should close or modify these breaks to provide more revenue for public services and infrastructure.
With Americans agreeing on a wide range of priorities, it’s unconscionable that Congress has so often relied on ineffective, secretive negotiations that bow to partisan maneuvering instead of listening to what the people want.
Lawmakers are elected to broker our government’s business in the best interest of the American people—all the people. We are major stakeholders and deserve a federal budget equal to the promise of this great nation. We should accept nothing less.•
Jo Comerford is executive director of the National Priorities Project (NPP), a national nonprofit, non-partisan research organization dedicated to making complex federal budget information transparent and accessible.