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On May 10, the majority party attempted to sacrifice the broad role of the federal government in improving the lives of low- and middle-income American families in order to spare the Department of Defense from the effects of sequestration for one year.
More than anything, the Republicans’ reconciliation bill demonstrated its ideological opposition to the role of government in protecting our economic security and investing in the future. I reject that ideological belief because it fails to recognize the government’s role in fostering economic growth.
Let me be clear. There is no debate that the federal government must protect American citizens and national interests at home and abroad. What I reject is the zero-sum mentality that national security must preclude the federal government’s role in supporting the middle class and protecting America’s poor, unemployed and elderly.
Government investment has been an essential driver of the economic growth that this country experienced during the 20th century. As we reduced military spending after World War II, the government committed to empowering the middle class. The GI Bill and the Eisenhower Interstate highway system were expensive investments that provided a real path to prosperity for millions of Americans. In fact, for every dollar expended in the GI Bill, the United States reaped $7 in economic benefits.
To make these types of commitments, however, the government needs an adequate level of revenue. Currently, government revenue is at an unsustainable 15 percent of gross domestic product, well below the nearly 20 percent revenue levels that successfully balanced the budgets of the late 1990s. Unfortunately, the House majority has decided to maintain its blanket opposition to revenue increases, with the appalling exception being the child tax credit for low-income families, which is cut in Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) reconciliation bill.
While starving the government of revenue, Republicans have determinedly increased overall defense spending by nearly 70 percent. While decrying “runaway” federal spending, the majority ignores the fact that defense spending accounts for almost two-thirds of the annual increase in discretionary spending since 2001.
Yet, when faced with the consequences of the choices they agreed to in the Budget Control Act last August, the House majority is now seeking to renege on the bipartisan deal by slashing nondefense discretionary spending to protect the Pentagon.
After a decade of ever-increasing budgets, the Pentagon can achieve its initial target savings of $487 billion mandated by the BCA without reducing our military capability. The sequester, however, would force unacceptably harsh cuts, dramatically eroding our nation’s ability to project power around the globe. Sequestration cannot be allowed to occur. Of course, the sequester was never meant to be a solution to our fiscal challenges. It was intended to be an alternative so horrible that a deeply divided Congress, through the super committee, would have no option but to reach an agreement.
I voted against the BCA because I lacked faith that the super committee could bridge the deep ideological gap dug ever deeper by the far-right tea party Republicans. This proved to be the case. The passage of Ryan’s “more guns-less butter” reconciliation bill on a party-line vote shows that the House GOP has learned little from the debt ceiling debacle.
Every Member on the floor that day knew that H.R. 5652 was an ideological battle cry, not a serious effort to avoid sequestration. Ultimately, achieving those goals will require a balanced agreement that pairs smart spending cuts with adequate revenue increases. This is a necessity, and it is high time the GOP leadership acknowledged that fact so we can begin working toward long-term bipartisan fiscal solutions.
Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) is a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.