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Republicans Reverse 26-Year Old Budget Precedent to Protect the Poor

July 28, 2011, 5:09 pm | Posted by Tara Culp-Ressler

Thumbnail image for boehner.jpgAs we reported earlier today, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as local Catholic leaders have criticized Speaker John Boehner for his proposed debt-reduction plan, which would “make tax cuts for the wealthy our most sacred national priority” instead of protecting the most vulnerable members of society. As the Catholic Bishops pointed out, a just framework for the budget requires shared sacrifice by all of our nation’s citizens, not drastic cuts to social programs for the poor and vulnerable. The critique is especially valid because, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains, such cuts are unprecedented in recent history:

For 26 years, all budget legislation that would trigger across-the-board cuts if Congress fails to meet a fiscal target has exempted the basic low-income (or “means-tested”) entitlement programs from those cuts. The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings laws of 1985 and 1990, the deficit reduction agreement of 1990, and the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 — all bipartisan pieces of legislation — included that exemption. So did last year’s “pay-as-you-go” law, which requires Congress to offset the cost of new tax cuts or increases in entitlement programs so they don’t increase the deficit. Congress has never enacted a law with an across-the-board cut mechanism that subjects core assistance for the poor to these cuts.

Essentially, social programs like Medicaid and food stamps have been protected from across-the-board budget cuts for the past quarter century. Low-income exemptions have appeared in every single piece of legislation of this type since 1985–every piece, that is, until the Republican-introduced budget plans this month. The “Cut, Cap, and Balance” Act, which the House of Representatives passed last week, and Boehner’s debt deal both drop the long-standing exemption.

It’s time for GOP congressmen to acknowledge that their proposed policies hurt the poor. By dropping a 26-year-old exemption that exists only to protect our nation’s most vulnerable from becoming casualties in Congress’ budget wars, Boehner and his supporters clearly demonstrate that fighting for low-income Americans is not their priority.

H/T to ThinkProgress

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