Max Richtman Michael Petit
NCPSSM, President/CEO Every Child Matters, President
Federal budgets are far more than just numbers on a page. They represent national priorities for our fiscal future. However, some in Washington hope to deflect our attention away from the real fiscal challenges facing our nation – unemployment, growing income inequity and a slow economy – in favor of an intergenerational warfare campaign pitting America’s young against old. This billion dollar austerity campaign is backed by Wall Street lobbyists who hope to convince younger generations that the only way for them to succeed is to cut the very programs their families depend on now, and which they’ll also need as they raise their own families later in life. The ultimate goal of this intergenerational warfare strategy is to divert attention away from a trillion dollars in wasteful tax breaks benefiting the wealthiest in our nation in favor of benefit cuts for middle class and poor Americans, of all ages. However, the truth is, grandma isn’t an economic threat to her children and grandchildren – the real threat is our skewed national priorities.
As lifetime advocates for children and seniors, we will join Rep. Diana DeGette at a town hall meeting in Denver on May 30th to make the case for fiscal policies which put America’s priorities back where they belong – on the side of our nation’s middle-class families. For too long, many in Washington have claimed that “shared sacrifice” means that if a millionaire loses a tax break then the middle-class and poor must also lose their modest benefits in Medicare, Social Security, Head Start, WIC and school lunches. This false equivalency pretends that a tax dollar lost to a millionaire or huge corporation is the same as a benefit dollar lost to a retiree living on $14,000 a year from Social Security, or a poor family which depends on food programs to feed their children. Americans know that’s not a fair and balanced fiscal approach, it’s not sensible reform and it’s not the path to economic recovery.
In 1900 the U.S. infant mortality rate was 165 deaths per 1,000 live births. Today it is six. In 1960 the elderly had the highest poverty rate and had no access to affordable health care. Today their poverty rate is the lowest and persons 65 and older are covered by Medicare. How are these tremendous advancements in human health and dignity related? They are the direct result of the American people telling their elected federal officials — presidents and Congresses both — to stop the preventable deaths of babies, and avoidable poverty and medical despair of the elderly. And it worked, the direct result of voter and taxpayer support for smart investments in the common welfare.
These and scores of other social advances over the last century contributed to most Americans enjoying what is perhaps the highest standard of living in the world. In combination with the benefits of a moderately regulated market economy, America’s national investments in its citizens — in itself — produced the planet’s strongest military and economic power. Now there are some in power who would junk this formula.
The latest version of trickle-down economics was soundly rejected by voters just last fall; however, the House GOP budget passed in a party line vote and recycles this failed fiscal plan by sharply cutting social spending and targeting programs which improve the lives of virtually every American family. If this budget vision prevails, big insurance companies could once again deny help to millions with pre-existing conditions. Tens of thousands of eager young learners could be denied Head Start. Seniors would face higher out-of-pocket costs while having to navigate the complex private marketplace with their Medicare vouchers. This radical, ideologically driven budget is a departure from decades of pragmatic, successful bipartisan policies aimed at lifting all Americans. Breaking our national promise to families, who have worked and contributed to help build this nation and the programs which have served us well for generations, to keep tax loopholes and subsidies for wealthy individuals and corporations does not reflect the priorities of the majority of Americans, young or old.
There is a way to return fairness and equity to our budget priorities. A balanced approach would target cuts to low-priority programs plus add new revenues, starting with the elimination of unnecessary tax breaks for the wealthy and huge corporations. We should preserve and strengthen proven safety-net programs in the face of a rapidly aging population and make critical investments in children and youth in order to remain competitive in a global economy. Throughout our history, America has never had to impoverish one generation in order to support another. As advocates for seniors and children we know that it doesn’t have to happen today either.
The future of our families and our nation depend on economic security at the beginning, middle and end of life. The fates and lives of the old and young are intertwined. Grandparents love their grandkids and grandkids their grandparents. Both want and need the other to succeed. Making that happen for millions of average American families is simply a matter of priorities.
Michael Petit is the president of Every Child Matters, a national child advocacy organization. Max Richtman is president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.