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March 29, 2015

Editorial: Do These Budgets Reflect Our Priorities?

By Lecia Imbery

“The federal budget is about our national priorities and our values. It is about who we are as a nation and what we stand for. It is about how we analyze and assess the problems that we face and how we go forward in resolving those problems. That is the task the Senate now is about to undertake, and it is a very, very serious responsibility.” – Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), in a speech on the Senate floor on Monday

Today and tomorrow, the House and Senate will be voting on budget proposals introduced last week by their respective Budget Committees. As we’ve written before – in our 8 Head Smacker Budget blog post, our post about our SAVE for All budget letter, and our Human Needs Report – these budget resolutions would be disastrous for low-income people. The White House also recently put out a report with state-by-state estimates of the how the budget cuts would negatively affect programs and people. Sen. Sanders summed up these budget approaches well in his statement when he said, “…they want to cut nutrition, education, health care, virtually every program that working families need. But when it comes to defense spending, another $38 billion…No problem. Just add it to the deficit.”

Senator Sanders tried to insert some job-creating investments in infrastructure into the Senate budget resolution, paid for by closing corporate tax loopholes. But his amendment was defeated on Tuesday, 45-52.

In addition to the budget put forth by the House Budget Committee, the House will vote on several alternative budgets. Three of the alternatives – the House Budget Committee Democrats’ alternative, the Congressional Progressive Caucus alternative, and the Congressional Black Caucus alternative – take great steps toward reducing poverty and inequality and investing in shared prosperity. CHN previously endorsed the Congressional Progressive Caucus alternative. Unfortunately, none of the three is likely to pass.

In the Senate, March Madness won’t refer to basketball, but instead to one of my personal favorite parts of Senate procedure, the vote-a-rama. Starting Thursday, after the time-limit on budget debate has expired, the vote-a-rama will see Senators voting on dozens of amendments that will be offered to the budget resolution, without any time for debate. One amendment that may come up then (if not before then), from Sen. Patty Murray (D- WA), would replace sequestration cuts evenly across defense and non-defense spending for the next two fiscal years 2016 and 2017. This amendment was defeated in the Senate Budget Committee, but Sen. Murray is expected to bring it up again for a vote by the full Senate.

As the voting begins in both chambers, Members of Congress would do well to remember to remember this part of Sen. Sanders’ statement:

“We’re not a poor nation. We just have massive wealth and income inequality so the vast majority of people are becoming poor but the people on top are doing phenomenally well. That is a reality we must address.”

Over the next few days and weeks, as work on the FY16 federal budget continues, we will be watching to see how Members of Congress address this reality.

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