House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's acknowledgment that the GOP intends to break the promise of economic security provided to millions of middle-class Americans thanks to Medicare and Social Security offered a welcome dose of debt-debate honesty. Anyone who has watched the recent fiscal follies shouldn't really be surprised by Congressman Cantor's remarks. It's just surprising he said it out loud -- on camera -- in front of millions of Americans.
When it comes to promises made and promises broken, it's clear, many in Washington have made their choices about the kind of America they envision for future generations -- and it's a very different America from the one we live in today. Washington's so-called "fiscal hawks" promise "shared sacrifice" at the same time they promise to preserve trillions of dollars in tax breaks for the wealthy. They tell the average American that we can't afford to keep our promises of income security for the middle class while signing pledges promising protection for tax loopholes for corporations collecting billions in profits. It's time to set the record straight about the American promises that some of our elected officials are ready to break and those they've vowed to protect.
Medicare: 47 million seniors receive Medicare in a program that's more efficient than private insurance, which, history has shown, won't cover older Americans without massive government subsidies. Rather than support system-wide health care reform, the House instead voted for the GOP/Ryan budget, which would replace Medicare with a voucher system designed to shift costs to seniors and profits to private insurers. America's promise of guaranteed health coverage for our nation's retirees is a promise the GOP says it just can't keep.
Social Security: For three fifths of America's retirees, Social Security is the majority of their income. While the average $13,000 annual benefit is modest, it does keep millions of seniors from poverty each year. Even though Social Security has not contributed to our debt crisis, many in Congress continue to target the program for benefit cuts in a plethora of ways, including raising the retirement age, changing the COLA formula, means testing and privatization. According to Washington's fiscal hawks, this is also another American promise that we just can't keep for the millions of middle-class Americans and their families who will depend on Social Security in the future.
If we can't afford the vital safety net programs that touch the lives of virtually every average American family, what can we afford as a nation? What should be preserved during these difficult economic times? Incredibly, here are the promises that conservatives have fought so hard to keep.
Tax Cuts for the Wealthy: Even though the Bush-era tax cuts have cost the nation $1.7 trillion in reduced revenue, ballooning our debt and showing no evidence of boosting the economy, fiscal hawks promise to continue to fight to protect America's millionaires and billionaires from losing their tax breaks. At the same time, America's rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is disappearing.
Corporate Tax Loopholes and Giveaways: According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
In 2010, the tax code included over $1 trillion a year in tax expenditures. This far exceeded the cost of Medicare and Medicaid combined ($719 billion), or Social Security ($701 billion), or non-security discretionary programs, which stood at $589 billion or a little over half the cost of tax expenditures. Martin Feldstein, the Harvard economist who served as Chairman of President Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers, wrote last summer that tax expenditures are the single largest source of wasteful and low-priority spending in the federal budget and should be the first place that policymakers go to restrain spending.
Unfortunately, tax expenditures were not addressed in any way in Congress' recent debt deal, and Speaker Boehner has promised that they won't be addressed by his GOP appointees to the newly created "Super Committee," either.
While members of Congress are back in their districts this month during the Congressional recess, their constituents need to demand a straightforward answer to these questions: Will you sacrifice America's safety net to preserve tax breaks? Most importantly, what promises to America are you willing to keep and which are you ready to break?