Dems Take on Ryan Budget? Unshared Sacrifice

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Bill Pascrell, U.S. Congressman (D-NJ 8) and member of the House Budget Committee and Ways and Means Committee, and Carolyn B. Maloney, U.S. Congresswoman (D-NY 14), talked about past, present and future budget battles.

Spreading the pain?

For Representatives Bill Pascrell and Carolyn Maloney, a key consideration in the debate over fiscal austerity is whether or not all burdens are created equal. Both representatives were adamant that Representative Paul Ryan's (R-WI) 2012 budget proposal, and to a lesser extent, the 2011 budget, place undue stress on middle and low income Americans, as well as seniors, women and children.

Getting our fiscal house in order is all well and good, Pascrell said, but the Republican plan doesn't spread the pain so much as concentrate it.

Do we begin the process of getting government in balance? Only if there's shared sacrifices. The things we didn't like in the 2011 reconciliation was nothing was done in the defense budget. Only a small portion was cut, and yet we continue the process of giving tax cuts to those wealthiest Americans. We're going to change that when we get to the bigger debate.

Carolyn Maloney agreed that Ryan's budget unfairly tightened some belts while loosening others. What's more, she said the plan purports to deal with the deficit, but pairs spending cuts with revenue cuts that would reverse any headway.

Where it's moving us is towards not even reducing the deficit that much. In [Ryan's budget], they would cut spending on government programs over the next decade by $4.3 trillion, and they want to cut tax revenues over same period by $4.2 trillion. Government spending needs to be brought under control. But cutting services for police, fire, health, safety and education just to pay for more tax cuts is, in my opinion, not good economics, not good investment in the future, and not good public policy.

What New York and New Jersey can expect

How will the 2011 budget affect Pascrell and Maloney's states? What would Rep. Ryan's long term plan do to the region? 

Pascrell singled out federal spending cuts to environment and energy programs as being big losses for New Jersey. If the GOP's brief time in the Congressional majority is any indication, those institutions will be perpetually endangered for at least the next two years.

They're trying to dismantle the EPA; they don't even want the EPA to exist, they've said that in their literature. Specifically, the Tea Party has made it an anthem within whether they support candidates or not: 'Would you do away with the Energy Department? Would you do away with the EPA?'

Rep. Maloney said the budget proposals reflected a shift in burden not only from rich to poor, but also from national to local government.

It will grow the gap between the haves and have nots, and in my opinion it will raise taxes, particularly on urban areas like New York. When they slash these services, we're not going to have people sleeping on the street, or without homes, or without police protection. We will be providing it and probably taxing people more to make up for what the federal government cut out of our budget.

And then there's Medicare

Expect the two biggest flash points in the 2012 budget debate to be taxation and Medicare: Ryan's proposal cuts the top individual tax rate and the corporate tax rate by 10 percent, all while turning Medicare into a voucher system, essentially privatizing the program. Republicans expect Medicare changes to produce savings, which would then offset revenue losses from the tax cuts. Ryan has also been vague about closing certain tax loopholes as a means to raise revenue at the same time as lowering tax rates.

But Rep. Pascrell doesn't buy his math.

[Ryan's] numbers do not add up. The voucher system is horrible because there's a gap between the value of the voucher and the cost of health care, if you look at the trajectory of how health care costs have been going up, which this budget does nothing about. He hasn't decided how he's going to make up that difference either. He says we're going to do loopholes. Well, both parties talk about loopholes. Let's get very specific.

Concerned about the long term solvency and effectiveness of GOP-brand Medicare, Carolyn Maloney said that the track record for similarly managed "block grant" programs should raise red flags.

It will end Medicare as we know it. When things are block granted, you see what happens to them. The Community Development block grant is decimated in this budget, which puts the burden on the backs of the middle class and seniors. But it protects people earning higher income, even gives them a greater tax break. I think it's unfair.