By Randi Schmidt
Director of Economic Empowerment Policy, YWCA USA
Years ago, I attended an event on economic policy where now-Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), was speaking. After the event, I introduced myself to him and shared that I was a former Hill staffer. I told him that, while I disagreed with nearly everything he had said regarding economic policy, I knew from a mutual friend that he was still a good guy. His response was pure Paul Ryan: he threw his head back and laughed.
That was the day I joined the Paul Ryan Fan Club. While I don’t agree with him on policy issues, any elected official who can laugh with a former staffer is more than OK in my book. My encounter with him continues to remind me that good people can disagree on policy, and they can advocate for different ideas and policy proposals but still respect and laugh with each other. Now that Chairman Ryan is a star in his party – he was a Vice-Presidential nominee after all – it is even more important for me to remember that encounter. Because the truth is, while I do like him, I don’t like his latest proposals very much.
Last week, Representative Ryan released his budget plan for Fiscal Year 2014. In my position here at the YWCA, focused on economic issues that impact women and families, I have spent a lot of time reviewing these kinds of plans from both sides of the aisle. In many ways, Ryan’s plan is the same one we have seen from him for the past few years, dusted off and with a few minor changes: tax cuts that benefit the economically well-off, and structural changes to Medicare, Medicaid and SNAP/food stamps, which will hurt women and children who rely on them the most.
Here is a brief summary of what the Ryan Budget does:
- It turns SNAP/food stamps into a block grant, a fixed amount of funding administered by states, instead of a safety net program support by the federal government; places time limits on the benefits; and requires recipients to work in order to receive benefits.
- It offers subsidies for Medicare, so middle-aged people would eventually get a coupon to afford a certain type of healthcare coverage, or opt to pay more for a different plan.
- It turns Medicaid into a block grant, cutting its funding, and repeals the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which means that women and girls would lose the preventative benefits with no co-pays and that insurance companies would be able to rescind coverage based on pre-existing conditions, like domestic violence or cesarean sections.
- It protects defense spending from sequestration cuts.
- It cuts the top tax rate for individuals from 39.6% to 25%, even though, in poll after poll, the public supports ending tax cuts for the highest earners in our nation to help pay for our nation’s debt. Yet, the Ryan budget would cut taxes for households with annual incomes over $200,000 by about $34,500, and cut taxes for households with annual incomes of more than $1 million by about $330,000, on average. To fully finance these tax breaks for high earners, women and families whose incomes are under $200,000 would see their taxes go up by more than $3,000, on average.
- It locks in the sequester for years to come, with 5% across-the-board cuts to federally-funded programs in 2013, and includes additional cuts on top of it – resulting in significant cuts to human needs programs like those run by the YWCA. And, the Ryan budget shifts cuts that were allocated to defense programs over to programs that help women and children, like housing and job-training programs, childcare and Head Start programs, and domestic violence and sexual assault services and programs.
- It freezes the maximum Pell Grant award for 10 years, leaving millions of female students with less money to pursue education and job training.
Today, the House will vote on Representative Ryan’s plan. It will pass the House. It will most likely not pass in the Senate. But for advocates concerned about the well-being of YWCA clients, women and children, the Ryan budget is one that we cannot support. Conversations in Washington about how to address our nation’s debt and deficit are ongoing; elected officials on both sides of the aisle, including the President, want to come to an agreement on a broad debt deal – one that would cut over a trillion dollars from the federal budget, and could include changes to the sequester, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other programs. Representative Ryan’s budget is important, because it is the starting point with which he and his fellow House Republicans, will approach these conversations about the debt. This is their framework.
Now is the time for advocates to speak up and reject this budget and this approach. You can start by asking your members of Congress to stop the sequester. Trust me when I say that Representative Ryan is a great guy. He’s also tough. He can take people disagreeing with his ideas. Because this isn’t personal; we just don’t agree on the policy.
Want to learn more about the Ryan Budget and how you can get involved? Join a webinar with the Coalition on Human Needs this Thursday.
Randi Schmidt is the Director of Economic Empowerment Policy for YWCA USA. She has worked at the organization for nine years.