Letter to the Senate Opposing the Cap, Cut, Balance Act
July 21, 2011
On behalf of the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association, we strongly urge you to VOTE NO on the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act (H.R. 2560), scheduled for floor consideration this week. While we understand the need to get our nation's fiscal house in order, this bill is not the right mechanism to achieve that goal. The effect of this proposal would be devastating for public education and retirement security, undermining economic recovery and jeopardizing our future strength as a nation. Votes associated with this issue may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 112th Congress.
The Cut, Cap, and Balance Act would write spending caps into law at the levels contained in the House-passed Ryan budget. It also would hold hostage the debt limit increase unless two-thirds of the House and the Senate agree to a constitutional balanced budget amendment. The required constitutional amendment would make all revenue-raising measures unconstitutional unless they secure a two-thirds supermajority in both chambers. In addition, the required amendment would cap total federal expenditures at 18 percent of GDP.
Overall, this plan, like other proposed spending caps and balanced budget amendments, would result in the largest cuts in federal spending in modern history. It will not be possible to achieve the spending levels required under any balanced budget amendment or spending cap proposal without massive cuts in education, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other programs that meet crucial national needs. In fact, the bill would require an immediate, deep $47 billion aggregate cut to non-security discretionary spending, including an 11.7 percent cut to Labor-HHS-Education discretionary programs.
Educators understand that Congress must work to ensure America’s long-term economic prosperity and that we must address the nation’s serious fiscal challenges. However, cutting education funding and slashing programs that serve children, the elderly, and working families is not the answer. And, while we understand the need to address the nation’s deficit, we also know that some debt is necessary to meet critical needs. Most families have mortgages and car loans, and take on other debt to provide for their children’s futures. In addition, while many states must balance their operating budgets, they take on debt for capital costs and job-creating projects such as building roads, bridges, and schools.
NEA members see first-hand every day the struggles of many of their students and their families. The Cap, Cut, and Balance Act will make their struggles even harder - essentially abandoning them while continuing to cater to Wall Street and the wealthiest in our nation. In fact, unlike every law of the past quarter-century that has contained a fiscal target or standard enforced by across-the-board cuts, this proposal does not exempt the core basic assistance programs for the poorest Americans from such across-the-board cuts. It does so even as it seeks to erect a constitutional firewall to safeguard tax cuts and tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. Thus, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, an impoverished elderly widow living on Supplemental Security Income — which provides benefits that lift people to just 75 percent of the poverty line — could have her assistance cut back under the measure’s across-the-board budget cuts even as millionaire hedge-fund managers retained their lucrative carried-interest tax breaks.
However well-intentioned the notion of capping discretionary spending may be, this type of fiscal proposal is akin to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) ballot measures which have been repeatedly defeated in states across this country. And, where enacted, TABOR has held policymakers hostage to simplistic formulas perpetrated by their predecessors. In Colorado, TABOR resulted in a drop in per pupil K-12 education funding from $200 less than the national average in 1992 to $1000 less than the national average in 2006.
This bill would constitute exceedingly unwise economic policy. It would risk tipping a faltering economy into recession and slowing economic recovery. It would determine spending levels for decades and tie future Congress’ hands. And, it would render impossible the sorts of investments necessary to continue economic recovery and grow the skilled workforce necessary for future economic strength.
The Cap, Cut, and Balance Act would decimate public education and other programs that ensure a competitive workforce and future economic vitality. We urge you to oppose this and any similar proposals.
Director of Government Relations
Manager of Federal Advocacy