The Religious Right’s Fiscal and Moral Nihilism
As the federal debt ceiling showdown looms, the religious right is teaming up with Tea Partiers and corporate front groups to push policies that would have catastrophic consequences for American families. Specifically, Concerned Women For America, FRCAction, Liberty Counsel, the Traditional Values Coalition and several more obscure groups have signed on as sponsors of “Cut, Cap, Balance,” a new right-wing coalition with an eponymous platform that’s as destructive as it is simple:
Cut - Substantial cuts in spending that will reduce the deficit next year and thereafter.
Cap – Enforceable spending caps that will put federal spending on a path to a balanced budget.
Balance – Congressional passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — but only if it includes both a spending limitation and a super-majority for raising taxes, in addition to balancing revenues and expenses.
Let’s address these one at a time. The “substantial cuts in spending” are left to the imagination, but given that every Member of Congress who has signed the “Cut, Cap, Balance” pledge also voted for the Ryan GOP budget plan, it’s safe to assume they’re not talking about cutting defense spending and subsidies to oil companies. This budget, you’ll recall, made deep cuts to needed programs that would cause concrete suffering for struggling families, seniors, and the poorest people here and abroad while further enriching the wealthiest and most powerful Americans. These are facts.
Analysts who actually assess the real-world impact of “enforceable spending caps” conclude that these caps would have catastrophic impact. The Hill reported yesterday that “Overall caps on federal spending would drive million [sic] of seniors into poverty and raise healthcare costs dramatically, according to new data from The Lewin Group.” I would hope the religious right is unaware of rather than indifferent to this consequence of their policy preference.
The Balanced Budget Amendment is perhaps the worst idea of them all. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities concludes that under the Amendment, the only current federal budget proposal that would pass constitutional muster would the Republican Study Committee’s plan, which would slash taxes for the rich and make stunningly irresponsible and immoral cuts that would harm the middle class, children, the poor, seniors, veterans, education, law enforcement and the environment.
Nowhere in the Cut, Cap, Balance platform is there an appeal to shared sacrifice, an admission that tax cuts are a major driver of our debt, or an acknowledgement that these policies would harm people who did nothing to cause our fiscal problems. It is devoid of accountability for those who got us into this mess and bereft of compassion for those these cuts threaten. It is an abomination of a platform, and it’s a moral scandal that any self-proclaimed Christian organization would support it.
(Details of the Balanced Budget Amendment’s projected effects are after the jump.)
- It cuts total funding for non-defense discretionary programs by approximately 70 percent in 2021, and by more than $3 trillion over the next ten years, relative to the already reduced funding levels that Congress recently approved for fiscal year 2011 (adjusted for inflation).
This is the part of the budget that includes veterans’ medical care, most homeland security activities, border protection, and the FBI. It also includes education, environmental protection, protecting the nation’s food and water supply, and medical research, as well as services for disadvantaged or abused children, frail elderly people, and people with severe disabilities.
- It contains deeper Medicare cuts than the Ryan budget. The RSC budget includes the Ryan proposals to convert Medicare to vouchers and raise its eligibility age from 65 to 67, but it raises the eligibility age sooner than the Ryan budget would.
- It raises the Social Security retirement age to 70.
- It also contains cuts of almost unimaginable depth in the core programs for the poorest and most disadvantaged Americans: in 2021, Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), and Supplemental Security Income would all be cut in half.
The budget slashes Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years; Medicaid funding would be cut by 54 percent in 2021. (This is on top of the more than $600 billion in Medicaid cuts it would impose by repealing the Affordable Care Act and its coverage expansions.) It cuts SNAP by a remarkable $350 billion — or 50 percent — over ten years. And it cuts Supplemental Security Income, which provides poor people who are elderly or severely disabled with benefits that raise them to about 75 percent of the poverty line, by $238 billion over ten years; SSI would be cut in half in 2021.
- It cuts at least $86 billion over ten years from Pell Grants, which help low-income students afford college. Other cuts include $84 billion in farm programs.