WASHINGTON -- To Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the new Republican budgets offered this week aren't so much spending blueprints as they are promises to help the rich get richer and boost income inequality.
There are some large differences between the House GOP budget offered Tuesday and the Senate plan unveiled Wednesday. The House version includes deeper cuts to the safety net, for example, along with significantly greater military spending.
But to Sanders, the top minority member of the Senate Budget Committee, neither version of the budget would do much to help working-class Americans, students, the elderly or the sick -- although they both offer plenty of handouts to wealthy taxpayers and corporations.
"At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, my Republican colleagues apparently believe that the richest people in this country need to be made even richer," said Sanders after Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) unveiled the Senate document at a committee meeting Wednesday. "It is apparently not good enough that 99 percent of all new income today is going to the top 1 percent. It is not good enough that the top one-tenth of 1 percent today own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent."
"Clearly, in the eyes of many Republicans, the wealthy and the powerful need more help," Sanders added. "Not only should they not be asked to pay more in taxes, my Republican colleagues believe we should cut tax rates for millionaires and billionaires."
The budget does not actually specify new breaks for the rich, but it does assume that existing breaks won't expire as currently scheduled. It also instructs Senate committees to draw up plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would likely cost middle-class Americans the subsidies they get to buy health insurance.
To Sanders, that's just one more way the budget would hurt the middle class while helping the wealthy. And he sees it all as part of a 40-year trend in which Washington has made life in America harder for those not at the top of the economic ladder.
"It is not good enough that corporate America is enjoying record-breaking profits, and that the CEOs of large corporations earn some 290 times more than what their average employees earn," he said. "It is apparently not good enough that since 1985 the top one-tenth of 1 percent has seen a more than $8 trillion increase in its wealth than what they would have had if wealth inequality had stayed at the same level that it was in 1985. An $8 trillion increase in the wealth of the top one-tenth of 1 percent! But for many of my Republican colleagues, [it's] just not good enough."
Enzi, of course, saw his plan very differently.
"The resolution that we will be debating this week and next is a responsible plan that balances the budget in 10 years, with no tax hikes," he said. "It also protects our most vulnerable citizens, strengthens our national defense and improves economic growth and opportunities for hardworking families."
While the Senate plan cuts safety net and domestic programs to a lesser degree than the House plan, it still aims to cut $236 billion from non-defense programs over 10 years, as well as $4.2 trillion from health care and welfare programs.
Enzi argued that cuts are essential because the nation cannot sustain its growing debt, which currently stands at $18.1 trillion.
"Why the urgency to act now? Right now we pay $230 billion in interest each year," he said. "The president's own numbers raise that to $780 billion a year [in 10 years]. Every dollar spent on interest and our debt is another dollar we won't be able to use for government services, for individuals in need, or another dollar that won't be available for taxpayers for their own need."
"We have to act now, while we still have some choices," Enzi added.
Sanders and his fellow independent, Sen. Angus King (Maine), argued that the biggest problem with the GOP plan is that it does nothing but cut. King suggested other ways to close deficits, including raising more revenue, growing the economy through GI Bill-style investments and doing a better job of reducing health care costs.
"Growing the economy is the answer, but a one-sided response to say we're only going to grow the economy by cutting taxes -- number one, I don't think there's evidence to validate that, and number two, it ignores the power of appropriate investments in infrastructure, education... those things that actually do grow the economy," King said.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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