When I participated in my ﬁrst budget battle as a new member of the California Assembly back in the late 1990s, I was admonished that the budget isn't just a collection of numbers. It is a moral statement of our values as a people and a community. The budgets proposed by the Republicans -- both in California and in Washington, D.C. -- clearly show that today's Republican Party values millionaires over working families and Big Oil over seniors.
In California, we have not been able to extract a single Republican vote to extend the current tax rates necessary to protect our schools and create infrastructure to generate jobs. In Congress, the Republicans have gone so far as to adopt a budget that would end Medicare as we know it, turning it into a voucher or coupon program.
This the wrong direction for medical care because it would force seniors to fend for themselves on the private insurance market and continually pay more for their health care costs. The Republicans have yet to explain how they plan to force insurance companies to cover seniors, an age group that is not proﬁtable to insure. How will they insure these people? Will insurance companies continue to increase premiums across the board, as they are doing now? Of course they will. That's why the Medicare system was created in the ﬁrst place -- because seniors were the most likely to be uninsured, only 14 percent having medical coverage when the program started. While the Medicare system needs reforms to control costs, the answer is not to force our seniors to navigate a private insurance market that will do everything it can to withhold coverage and services. Reducing access and affordability during life's most difﬁcult moments is morally wrong and not the American way of caring for its vulnerable and deserving citizens.
The same Republican budget would extend tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires and continue unnecessary subsidies for Big Oil, at a time of record proﬁts and high prices at the pump. So here we are: According to the Congressional Budget Ofﬁce, the Republican plan would have your grandparents pay an additional $6,000 out of pocket every year to cover their medical bills so that the Warren Buffets of the world can receive an additional $200,000 tax break and, at the same time, give Big Oil nearly $8 billion a year in subsidies while they continue to make record proﬁts. It begs the question: What exactly do these Republicans value?
Not only is this plan bad for the American people, Americans do not want it. The Republicans in our legislatures are turning a deaf ear to the fact that 84 percent of Americans oppose their plan to privatize Medicare and reduce beneﬁts and 74 percent support eliminating tax breaks for the oil and gas industry. A majority of Americans support eliminating tax breaks for the wealthy. Even close to 60 percent of Independents support eliminating tax cuts for Americans making over $250,000 a year.
There is a better plan, one that will eliminate the deﬁcit and create a surplus by 2021, contrary to the Republican plan that continues to blow holes in the current deﬁcit. The "People's Budget" advanced by the Congressional Progressive Caucus doesn't attempt to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class, children and seniors, the most vulnerable among us. It would get our ﬁscal house in order by eliminating tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires and make sure they pay their fair share. It would close tax loopholes so that well-paid accountants can't reduce the tax obligations of the wealthy and big corporations to zero. It would end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ﬁnally bringing our troops home and stop the expenditures of billions of dollars a day in other countries when we need to invest right here at home. It would enact a comprehensive jobs program to put America back to work so there are more taxpayers paying into the Treasury and fewer Americans dependent on the social safety net. It would enact a public health insurance option that will create more competition with private insurance companies and reduce premiums for all Americans. That is the direction we should be taking -- giving more to the people and less to billionaires and Big Oil. It is a responsible approach that will bring hope, opportunity, dignity and fairness back to our public policy. We can do this and we must if we want to ensure that we really are committed to the future and the American Dream.
This appeared in the Santa Barbara News-Press, May 8, 2011