Some political observers have suggested that Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and the House Republican caucus demonstrated courage with their most recent budget proposal. I disagree.
There is no doubt that we need to restore fiscal responsibility in Washington, D.C. – on this point, nearly all of my Republican and Democratic colleagues agree. We enacted cuts and savings that amount to $900 billion over ten years and agreed to at least $1.2 trillion more over nine years beginning in 2013. Where we disagree is on whether cuts in federal spending need to come at the expense of important investments in our economic growth.
The House Republican budget proposal would devastate funding for the programs necessary to get our state through the current economic storm that has left us with the second highest unemployment rate in the country. In addition, it will increase the debt held by the public for ten years and not balance the budget for almost 30 years. It provides massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and pays for these tax cuts by decimating critical investments in our future.
With Rhode Island’s share of the economic recovery still struggling to take hold, the Republican budget proposes substantial cuts in education and workforce training, including $166 billion in cuts from student loans and Pell Grants over ten years – drawing from a playbook that has failed over and over again. This isn’t courageous, and it’s wrong at a time when so many require retraining to develop the skills necessary to find work. Our young people need education and training beyond high school in order to compete in the global economy of the 21st century.
In addition, the House Republican budget calls for deep cuts in highway funding, reducing transportation spending by at least 25% over ten years - slashing much-needed infrastructure investments that would put thousands of Rhode Islanders back to work.
Building a “path to prosperity,” as my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have claimed they are trying to do, means more than just repaving the nicest roads that our wealthiest citizens use – it means building new roads so that more Americans can achieve success if they work hard and play by the rules.
Rhode Islanders need a budget plan that will bolster job creation, strengthen our economic recovery, and support the middle class – not one that undermines the middle class, threatens our vital safety net, and instead provides greater tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and corporations that are shipping American jobs overseas.
During debate on the House floor, I voted in favor of the Democratic budget alternative authored by Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). This proposal doesn’t punish success as some have claimed, but merely asks millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share in helping reduce the deficit, and maintains significant investments that will help create good jobs for the men and women who have struggled to find work in recent years.
The Democratic alternative would maintain vital, job-creating investments in our highways, bridges, and transit systems, along with investing in an initiative to help rebuild and modernize our public schools and improve the quality of education, helping to put more Rhode Islanders back to work immediately.
It would strengthen Medicare as it exists today so that future generations of seniors continue to have access to guaranteed health coverage. And it achieves all this while getting our deficit under control. The Democratic alternative would cut our deficit from 8.7% of GDP in 2011 to less than 3% of GDP by 2015 – keeping it at that level through at least 2023.
Our federal budget isn’t just a list of ways to raise and spend revenue – it reflects our values as a nation. And the differences between the budget proposals put forth by House Republicans and Democrats demonstrate the clear differences in how we define political courage.
House Republican Leaders believe our ship of state can’t make it through this current storm without throwing a few of our senior citizens, young people, and working families overboard so Big Oil, the special interests, and corporations that ship jobs overseas can make it through unscathed.
I believe that true courage rests in asking everyone to pay their fair share, keeping the promises we have made to our seniors, and strengthening a middle class that is built to succeed in the 21st century economy. I am proud to continue fighting for these values.
Congressman David Cicilline, Rhode Island