08/03/2011 01:50 pm ET | Updated Oct 03, 2011

Debt Negotiations Threaten Colorado's Future

So what are our national spending priorities anyway? Save lives or save money for the rich? Feed hungry children or subsidize the oil and gas industry? Stop buying ineffective military equipment or stop paying for education and job training? These questions are at the heart of the debate over reducing the federal deficit and raising the debt ceiling. It's time for Colorado's congressional delegation to speak up on behalf of a balanced approach that makes prudent spending cuts and generates new revenue by asking a little more from those with the most.

Right now, many in Congress are rejecting any increase in federal revenues. Rather, they have embraced only spending cuts, including many that will cause real harm both to vulnerable people and to the economy as a whole. Due to the secrecy of discussions, it's not always easy to tell what cuts are on the table. But we know that in Colorado alone, some of the proposed cuts would:
  • Reduce health care for tens of thousands and eliminate thousands of jobs in the health care industry
  • Leave thousands of infants and young children hungry, putting their development and education at risk
Eliminate scholarships for 24,000 college students

Deficit reduction fever has produced proposals to cut Medicare anywhere between five to 50 percent. Cuts of any size would force Colorado to reduce reimbursements to doctors and hospitals, driving more physicians out of the Medicaid program. With nearly 800,000 Coloradans already uninsured, Medicaid cuts will surely increase that number as those with no other options are dropped or priced out. A recent study in Oregon confirmed what common sense tells us: when people don't have Medicaid they go without needed health care.

Furthermore, Medicaid cuts will hurt Colorado's economy. Low-end cost cuts will force state losses of $310,302,000 in business activity and 2,560 jobs. Imagine what harm cuts more than ten times that amount would do. That is not what our economy needs right now.

Cost cutters in the House have already adopted a budget plan that would end nutrition benefits for low-income infants, young children, and moms through the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program next year alone. Almost 106,000 Coloradans received WIC benefits in 2009, an increase of more than 15,500 recipients -- or nine percent -- since 2008, just one year before. Children that don't reliably get enough food are more likely to be sick, to be hospitalized, and to fall behind in school, harming their development and reducing their ability to contribute to our society and economy. Would we really decide to sentence many of these lower-income Colorado children to such a fate?

The same House plan would also eliminate Pell grants for 24,086 Colorado low-income students, all but ending their ability to go to college. This short-sighted proposal comes at a time when our economy needs three million more college graduates than we are currently expected to have by 2018. How can we compete if we don't give people the tools to work at the jobs of today and tomorrow?

Denver resident and 9to5 member Mandie Freyta knows first-hand the benefits of WIC and Pell Grants -- and what's at stake if these programs are slashed. A single mom of four children, she attended college, held down a job and cared for her young children, all at the same time. Without the Pell Grant that helped her earn her dual BA and the well-rounded nutrition that WIC provided her kids, she would never have made it where she is. Today, she's in graduate school and working full time while her children are thriving and in elementary and preschool. She is just one of thousands of Coloradans who are able to push to the next level with the help of federal scholarships and nutrition programs.

We don't have to hurt people now and shortchange our future if we look for common sense revenue solutions. Taxes are at their lowest share of the economy since 1950. President Ronald Reagan's budget chief David Stockman points out that taxing capital gains at the same level as earned income would both raise tens of billion and strengthen our economy by improving business decisions. Closing tax loopholes for corporations sheltering profits overseas, eliminating subsidies for oil, gas and coal industries, and taxing hedge fund managers' income as income instead of capital gains are other proposals out of many that could increase federal revenues by billions a year without burdening middle-class Americans. Hundreds of billions in savings are possible by reducing excess military spending. too.

Colorado's senators and representatives should insist on protecting their more vulnerable constituents from bearing the burden of cuts and on raising revenues from those who have enjoyed trillions of dollars in tax breaks. It's the right thing to do, for today and for our future.