Captivated, depressed and alarmed by the almost daily outrages of President Trump and his Administration, Americans could be tempted to forget that Congress – not the President – is the principal governing institution where our nation’s economy and well-being are concerned.
We were painfully reminded of this truth earlier this year when President Trump and the Republican congressional majority attempted to gut the Affordable Care Act and deny 20-30 million of our people access to health care.
In September, we will see this reality in action once again when the Congress will debate the federal role in addressing core challenges that confront millions of American families.
When the U.S. House and Senate return to Washington and the work of governing next month, most of the public’s attention, quite understandably, will be focused upon two essential deadlines that our government must meet.
The federal government must authorize an increase in the federal debt ceiling by Sept. 29, when the Treasury Department predicts that our nation would otherwise be in danger of defaulting on the obligations our government has already incurred. Any failure to do so would harm – quite possibly permanently – the full faith and credit of the United States, risking another crippling recession or worse.
Then, by Sept. 30, the Congress must also pass, and the President sign, a funding bill for the next fiscal year or cause yet another government “shut-down.”
The American people need to be warned, however, that these are not the only economic threats that we must now confront and overcome.
A third, longer-term threat to the well-being of our nation’s working families is emerging from the bowels of the congressional Republican Caucus: budget-cutting proposals that would slash federal programs essential to tens of millions of American lives.
I recommend to every American’s attention a report issued by Congressman John Yarmuth, Ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, that outlines the very real harm that the House Republicans’ proposed federal budget for Fiscal Year 2018 would impose on our nation’s citizens: (democrats-budget.house.gov).
As Congressman Yarmuth has declared, the Republicans’ proposal “abandons American families… in favor of wealthy individuals and powerful corporations.”
Congressman Yarmuth’s statement is not political hyperbole. His analysis warns of real and substantial threats to the well-being of tens of millions of American families.
The scope of this Republican attack on essential federal programs is staggering: $5.4 trillion in spending cuts over ten years, including $4.4 trillion in cuts to mandatory programs, almost one-half of which would come from federal support for affordable health care.
Among other mandatory programs, the largest reduction – nearly a trillion dollars ($892 billion) – hits the part of the budget that provides basic living standards for struggling families.
Even Social Security disability benefits are not spared – and the proposed Republican budgetary plan also calls for replacing Medicare’s guaranteed benefits for future retirees with fixed payments toward the purchase of a private health plan or traditional Medicare.
The Republican budget cutters have also set their sights on other federal programs that are essential to expanding economic opportunity, including education, research, veterans’ health care, transportation and environmental protection. In budgetary terms, these programs are termed “non-defense discretionary spending,” and under the Republicans’ proposal, support for these essential federal programs would be slashed over the next 10 years.
As the public witnessed in the Republicans’ effort to gut the Affordable Care Act, the Republicans’ budgetary attack has been structured to utilize “fast-track, 51-vote reconciliation procedures” in the Senate to push through cuts to mandatory spending programs totaling $203 billion in the upcoming fiscal year.
Congressman Yarmuth has concluded that these cuts would most likely fall heavily on programs serving low-income families, students struggling to afford college, seniors and persons with disabilities.
I must agree. Consider this.
One of the most heartless and ill-considered Republican proposals would cut $154 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over the next ten years. Virtually every other program that offers hope and opportunity to struggling Americans would also be slashed.
Along with my Democratic colleagues in the House and Senate, I will continue to fight these Republican attempts to slash our nation’s safety net and cut down existing ladders to opportunity – and I remain hopeful that some of the more moderate Republicans will join us in this struggle.
They should. This attack on opportunity and hope in our country threatens Americans of every background (including those who have supported President Trump and his Republican allies). We are confronted with a fundamental choice about what kind of nation we want to be.
As we learned during the initial battle to preserve and improve the Affordable Care Act, an informed, massive, and sustained outpouring of public support for these federal programs will be essential to determining the answer to this choice about our future.
If Americans of every background engage the Congress, we can prevail.
Our cause is just, and we cannot afford to fail.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.