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By Media and Communications Intern Jay Epstein
You may want to sit down for this news.
Congress, the government’s island of misfit toys that is supposed to run our country, may have actually accomplished something in a bipartisan manner: a budget agreement. Shocking, I know.
On Tuesday December 10th, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) held a press conference to announce that they reached an agreement on spending levels for the government for the next two years. Sure there may have been a lot of mudslinging from both sides along the way but Mr. Ryan and Ms. Murray have actually agreed on how much spending the government should allocate for programs like the military, education, housing, and transportation. So what exactly are the important points of this budget agreement?
First off, the agreement is not a grand, sweeping revision of how our government spends our hard earned tax dollars. This bill would only moderately increase discretionary federal spending on items such as medical research, and the Head Start program. To pay for it, they are increasing air travel fees and reducing government employee pension benefits. Now some of the disastrous cuts from the sequester can begin to be reversed. This is great news for all the people who were put out of work and programs that were cut, including important education programs like Head Start.
Unfortunately I am going to have to be a party-pooper and put a hold to your jubilation about the budget agreement. There are many, highly important things the budget agreement does not address, such as the debt ceiling. Also, the deal does not include an extension to the emergency unemployment compensation program that was created in 2008. That program expires in two weeks, right in the middle of the holiday season. Ouch.
In truth, coming to this budget agreement is just the tip of the iceberg of what Congress can and should do to reduce the deficit and give money to people and projects that actually need it. Certainly the agreement is progress but even more could be made if Congress closed some corporate tax loopholes. (See my blog from last week) How many corporate tax loopholes does the new bipartisan budget agreement close? Zero. The recent budget agreement will replace $63 billion in indiscriminate sequester cuts and reduce the deficit by just over $20 billion (which translates to 0.36 percent) – a tiny amount as compared to what we lose through these corporate tax loopholes. That kind of money would pay for a lot of things Americans overwhelmingly believe we should adequately fund – ranging from good schools and teachers to infrastructure projects like roads and bridges. The budget agreement is a fine start, but congress needs to step up to the plate and do everything it can, rather than just a little.