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Letter to the full Senate Offering our Views on the Reid Debt Ceiling Plan

July 30, 2011

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association, we offer our views on the debt ceiling plan offered by Majority Leader Reid and scheduled for a floor vote this weekend. While we understand that this plan was offered as a sincere attempt to reach a bipartisan solution, we have serious concerns about this approach and urge lawmakers to continue discussions to reach a solution that represents a balanced approach and one that honors our commitment to students, working families, and seniors. If cloture is not invoked on the Reid plan, we hope that our concerns expressed below can be remedied in the ongoing negotiations.
We are deeply disturbed that political brinksmanship has brought us to the point where we are forced to consider last minute deals that require great sacrifices from children, seniors, and working families while neglecting to ask anything of Wall Street, oil companies, and the wealthiest individuals.  We believe it is absolutely shameful that elected officials, under the guise of shared sacrifice, continue to demand more from those least able to bear additional pain.

We are deeply concerned about discretionary spending caps that will lead to deep cuts in education and other critical priorities that support the backbone of America's prosperity--working families on Main Street. 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. We view discretionary spending caps as an admission by Congress that all parties are, and will be. unable to come together in a bipartisan manner to address the fiscal policy of this nation. Passing spending caps is nothing more than an abdication of Congress's constitutional responsibility to debate vigorously, deliberate, and agree upon the nation's expenses on a yearly basis. That's what American families do at the kitchen table every year, and in too many cases, every month.

Should the proposal to create a bipartisan commission which considers spending cuts and avenues to increase revenue become law, we will fight vigorously to prevent more cuts to the very programs necessary to ensure our future economic security.  Cuts to education, Medicaid, and financial aid are short-sighted; they ignore the well-documented return on investments in education in the form of a more educated workforce earning higher wages and feeding that money back into the economy.
And, while changes to the current Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare programs appear to be off the table at the moment, we will also continue to fight to protect these core programs.  Deep cuts to these entitlements would be devastating for the millions of Americans who depend on them for their very survival. We would be particularly concerned about cuts to Medicaid – a program that serves one-third of our nation’s children.  Children who lack access to health care services are less likely to come to school healthy and ready to learn and to succeed academically.

We would also vigorously oppose the taxation of healthcare benefits. About three-quarters of NEA's membership are women, and as such, their healthcare participant pools have been and continue to be charged more for healthcare services than plans that are not predominantly female. We will continue to raise this gender-based disparity in our healthcare system, as well as the notion that the middle class cannot afford increasing costs and premiums for healthcare, nor can we as a country incentivize the practice of employers dropping healthcare coverage for their employees.
Finally, we believe the continued lack of any revenue increases derived from asking corporations and the wealthiest individuals to pay their fair share is disgraceful and a perversion of the core values on which this nation was built.   The wealthiest one percent of Americans receives a quarter of all the income.  Americans not only see this imbalance in their daily lives, they find it completely unacceptable and want their elected officials to work together to help Main Street hang on, not help Wall Street get more.   We will continue to fight aggressively to make sure that we ensure that those most able to are asked to do their part to help strengthen our nation.
In the closing hours of this political debacle, we understand that failure to raise the debt ceiling and the resulting default would be catastrophic for our nation and for the world.  If the debt ceiling is not raised by Tuesday, the senior widow barely scraping by will not receive her Social Security check.  The working parents barely making ends meet at minimum wage jobs will not receive the food stamps they desperately need to ensure their children are fed.  The families already hit hard by the recession will see the interest rates on their mortgages skyrocket out of reach and will face losing their homes.  These are not rhetorical debates.  They are the real, life and death consequences of policy makers’ failure to come together and act in the best interest of the nation.
Our nation’s fiscal stability must be assured in order to address the challenges ahead. We urge all elected officials to consider the credibility and stability of the United States economy, the interests of its people, and the core values of fairness and equal opportunity that make America great. Our greatness as a nation in the long term and our recovery in the short term depend upon the same thing: honoring those who have educated, protected, and built the nation's economic strength. Those people are found on Main Street in every community in every state in this land.

Kim Anderson                                                                                 
Director of Government Relations

Mary Kusler 
Manager of Federal Advocacy