Does CMR Understand Budgets?
Dear Group, McMorris Rodgers beat the drum for the “Balanced Budget Amendment” at several recent town halls. It is a perennial favorite on the right. Currently it stands zero chance of passage, but she votes for it as a demonstration of her supposed credentials as a fiscal conservative. But there is something wrong here. McMorris Rodgers constantly harps about “getting control of the federal budget” and “the hard work of the appropriations process” and how “entitlements” must be controlled since they represent so much of non-discretionary part of the federal budget. All that sounds really important and difficult and essential, doesn’t it? She must be really smart to have her head wrapped around all that. In my childhood my parents taught me about budgets. I was expected to keep track of every penny in a little notebook. Back then I was taught budgets have both an income and an expense side. Making my budget balance required me to have…and to maintain…an income. McMorris Rodgers wants us to focus on the expenditures, but she really, really wants to keep us from thinking about the income side. Government budgets, just like personal budgets, have both. The income side of a government budget is taxes. McMorris Rodgers slashed that federal income last December with her vote for the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” In fact, she cannot quit talking about that vote and how proud it makes her. Eighty percent of that government income was turned around and given to corporations and the already wealthy. The federal government does some really important things. It is supposed to fund maintaining and modernizing our infrastructure, the interstate highway system, bridges, dams, weather prediction, flood control structures. It certainly maintains substantial expenditures dedicated our common defense. It maintains relations with other nations. It provides funding for scientific research, looks after the purity of our food, guards against the spread of disease, tries to keep our air breathable and our water drinkable. Until recently, our federal government tried to improve the efficiency of energy use so as to make us less dependent on foreign oil. The federal government, at least since the 1930s forward has helped maintain and administer a social safety net. These are just a very few of what most of us think of as essential functions of our federal government. So why are McMorris Rodgers and her Republican colleagues so proud of reducing the income stream that helps support all this? Their donors certainly took notice. As an example close to home, the Schweitzers of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Pullman waited until it was clear they were going to receive a good chunk of that money as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Then they wrote checks for more than a half a million dollars to McMorris Rodgers’ campaign and Republican interests. If you wish to “Balance the Budget,” Cathy, you have to consider both sides of the ledger. You just gave away a significant chunk of federal income (1.3 trillion over ten years). You gave most of that to corporations and the already rich. Oops! Horrors! After that income giveaway, suddenly we’re poor as a nation so we need to tighten out belts, we need to “rein in entitlements” we need to “balance the budget.” Let us remember “entitlements” are things like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, programs that offer some small security for the common man. “Entitlements” aren’t something that benefit someone else, some imaginary faceless, nameless, lazy, undeserving slacker. No, “entitlements” are by and large the programs put in place starting with Roosevelt’s “New Deal” in the 1930s, programs many Republicans would like us to think sap the common man’s will to work. Of course, McMorris Rodgers has to use that word “entitlement” careful discrimination. For instance, the Steve Gleason Act, directing Medicare to foot the bill for expensive voice synthesis machines, well, the money for that can’t be an “entitlement.” Heavens no, that would be an “empowerment.” McMorris Rodgers' often touted ABLE Act benefits people with disabilities like Cole, McMorris Rodgers’ son with Down Syndrome. I'm very much in favor of helping the disabled, all of them, not just the ones who happen to have relatives with money. ABLE offers a tax loophole for those folks demonstrating a disability before age 26. It allows each such person to establish or have established for them a special savings account in which money earned within the account accumulates tax free. Of course, someone has to have the money (maximum of $15,000 annually) to put in the account in the first place. The foregone taxes on the money earned in the account is money off the income side of the federal budget, isn't it? Well, we certainly wouldn’t want to call that an “entitlement,” would we? (I prefer this to further enriching the already wealthy out of our tax coffers, but from a budget perspective it is still money removed. On top of that, isn't this "picking winners and losers" among the disabled? Isn't that supposed to be a terrible no-no for every Republican?) Then there is the renewal of the Medicare pass-through for, among others, an eye drug of negligible utility, a renewal McMorris Rodgers slipped into the Appropriations package. That was a 26 million dollar benefit to the Omeros Corporation, a drug company, over ten years, Apparently, that wasn't an “entitlement” for Omeros’ stock holders. No, that would be a “improving access to life-changing drugs.” Isn’t it odd how it matters what you call things? A tax cut sounds appealing, but a giveaway of national income? Well, not so much. Yet, an income giveaway to corporations and the mega-wealthy is what McMorris Rodgers' touted tax cut was. Budgets have two sides. McMorris Rodgers wishes us not to notice when she robs the income side of budget to give to the wealthy and when she chooses corporate and individual winners and losers. Now she wants to ratchet down on programs she has put in artificial jeopardy. Keep to the high ground, Jerry