03/03/2011 04:01 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Defining Our Democracy, One Budget at a Time

"Budgets are moral documents." These words from the Rev. Jim Wallis reflect a simple yet powerful fact about our democratic process: where we put our money reveals how we define our values.

If House Republicans succeed in making drastic cuts to job training, scientific research, and vital public services, they compromise our values of hard work, innovation, and compassion. These proposals are both morally bankrupt and fiscally irresponsible. Only by investing in America's real economic engines -- a highly skilled workforce, cutting-edge technology, and a strong middle class -- can we grow out of our deficit and into prosperity.

We've seen the moral case against these cuts first hand.

Some of us have worked as community organizers and can attest to the devastating cost of cutting $400 million from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program on which countless working families rely for home heating during winter months. This program is a matter of survival for millions across the Northeast and Upper Midwest, and even GOP Senator Scott Brown, a Tea Party hero, has warned against cutting a single dime from it.

Some of us have worked in health care, and we shudder to think of the impact of a $1.3 billion cut to community health centers that serve families in extreme need. Only three years ago, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch praised these centers for providing "affordable and quality care to at-risk Americans who otherwise might have to do without."

Some of us have organized with unions and know the consequences of cutting $2 billion from job training initiatives that are essential to fighting unemployment. For the thousands of hardworking people who have been laid-off due to outsourcing, these programs are one of the only paths to a brighter future.

We all agree that the GOP's budget is more than a threat to the country's most vulnerable citizens. It's a threat to America's economic competitiveness.

While we will never compete with China and India by paying workers un-livable wages, we can win our economic future by building better technology, better infrastructure, and better skills. This requires investment, however -- not the abandonment of people and principles many in Congress have proposed.

Protecting such vital programs has little to do with the size of government. Even the most painful, job-killing cuts amount to a mere drop in the deficit bucket: less than 3% of the Fiscal Year 2010 federal spending. Moreover, investment in technology and a world-class workforce is the best way to spur sustainable growth in the private sector.

Last Thursday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor sought to defend the proposed cuts at the Kennedy School, repeatedly apologizing for their "necessity." When faced by an Americorps teaching volunteer and her students, Rep. Cantor fell over himself to praise her service -- but not to save the program. "We just can't afford it," he said -- as he said about HIV/AIDS-prevention, the National Institute of Health, the EPA, job training and more. Yet when pressed to defend his vote to keep the Bush tax cuts in place for the wealthiest 1% of Americans, the Representative from Virginia had no problem asserting himself. "They earned it," he said. "This is what small government is fundamentally about."

With all due respect, Mr. Majority Leader, it is not. The billionaires Mr. Cantor so zealously defends rely on government far more than the average citizen. Maintaining transportation infrastructure, an education system to train workers, courts to arbitrate disputes, a navy to protect sea lanes, science research to create cutting edge products, and countless other basic government functions are absolutely essential for businesses seeking to earn profits. Without public assistance, the captains of industry cannot earn a dime.

True advocates of small government would focus on cutting waste and expanding private sector opportunity. Mr. Cantor and his minions are, in contrast, more like "Reverse Robin Hoods:" taking from the poor and working class to give to the ultra-rich. Their job-killing spending cuts amount to a mere fraction of the Bush tax cuts.

This is not only a matter of justice. It's a matter of patriotism: no proud American should sit idly by while they seek to dismantle our economic future.

Primarily authored by Justin Zorn, Masters in Public Policy candidate and co-chair of the HKS Dems op-ed team. HKS Dems leadership coordinates and reviews all op-eds that appear in this space.