The Budget Control Act of 2011 epitomizes the failure of the current Congress. Americans understand we can’t cut our way into prosperity: a CNN poll indicates that two-thirds of the population support ending the Bush tax breaks for the wealthy. If the rich paid their fair share, we wouldn’t have to endure cuts to programs on which everyday people rely. But instead of generating revenues, Congress opted to reduce spending by $917 billion. The irresponsibility of this slash-and-burn approach becomes glaring upon inspection. For example, the Act eliminated the federally subsidized student loan program for almost all postgraduate students. Modest increases to the maximum Pell Grant do not sufficiently compensate. The nonpartisan Committee for Education Funding found the legislation effectively increased the cost of college attendance. It cannot be stressed enough that making it harder to receive an education is not the way to solve our financial woes. In fact, the centerpiece of our long-term economic strategy should be to forge a more educated nation.
Some members of Congress justified their vote for the Budget Control Act by claiming so-called entitlement programs (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) were spared. Even if that were true, that is not an acceptable compromise. An acceptable compromise would have included responsible cuts and revenues. The argument that harmful cuts could be excused by the fact that more harmful cuts were avoided illustrates why congressional approval is at an historic low. Furthermore, the validity of the claim is dubious at best. Since the “super committee” established by the Act did not reach an agreement on deficit reduction, a two percent cut to Medicare provider payments will now be automatically triggered. The attempt to save face was therefore predicated on the fantasy that this committee – made up of members of the same Congress that passed the legislation – would not fail.
The committee was charged with issuing a recommendation to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion over a ten-year period. On November 21, it announced “it [would] not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline.” As a writer for the Los Angeles Times noted when the Act was passed, those who valued cutting spending had the most leverage. This was because the triggers activated if the group failed exclusively contained cuts. In other words, the endeavor was doomed from the start. It was in the best interest of those who only wanted cuts to ensure no agreement was reached. Leave it to this Congress to create a scheme that incentivizes deadlock.
When the Bush tax cuts near their expiration date at the end of 2012, we must vehemently oppose their renewal for the wealthiest Americans. Otherwise, we could expect more of these reckless cuts that harm everyday Americans. Hopefully, by then, we’ll have elected more competent representatives to prevent history from repeating itself.