To pay for vital programs, Congress must make tough choices

March 26, 2009

– Deborah Weinstein is the executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs. The opinions expressed are her own –

As the House and Senate Budget Committees begin work this week on their versions of the Congressional Budget Resolution, the usual suspects are lining up to oppose proposals that would pay for health care reform, reduce global warming, create more jobs and improve our education system. Beyond the expected Republican opposition, however, some key Democrats are also calling for changes that would seriously weaken Presidents Obama’s groundbreaking budget.

Although the chairs of the House and Senate Budget Committees are expected to craft resolutions that remain faithful to the President’s priorities, many of the revenue sources proposed by Obama are being called into question.  Further, the skittish-on-spending Blue Dog Democrats in the House and similarly inclined Senate Democrats are urging reductions in domestic appropriations, which pay for education, job training, housing, child care and child welfare services, public health, and other family and community services.

Last week’s significantly increased deficit projections from the Congressional Budget Office have provided further ammunition for those waving the banner for reduced domestic spending. In large part because the economy worsened dramatically since the Obama Administration prepared its budget, CBO projected a deficit of $1.4 trillion for fiscal year 2010 compared with the Obama budget estimate a $1.17 trillion.

As serious as the deficit is, cutting domestic appropriations is not the answer. These programs contribute minimally to the deficit, and are crucial to pulling our country out of the deepest recession in decades and creating long-term economic stability for all Americans. And while cutting waste in such areas as Medicare, military contracts and farm subsidy programs are important sources of potential savings, they won’t provide enough to fund the desperately needed shift in priorities called for under President Obama’s budget.

Instead, those who criticize the President’s proposals must come up with fair and responsible alternatives for increasing revenues and reducing the deficit over time.

The President’s budget provides a blueprint for doing just that. To pay for health care reform, for example, Obama proposes funding his $634 billion expansion of health care, which would take a giant step towards quality care for most Americans, in part by lowering the value of income tax deductions for the wealthiest households (those making more than $250,000 a year) from 35 cents on the dollar to 28 cents.  This change, which brings the rate back to what it was during the later part of the Reagan Administration, would produce $318 billion in savings over the next 10 years. When combined with the Obama budget’s $316 billion in projected savings from reduced payments to expensive private plans, it would cover much of the cost of the health care reform plan.

Although 98.8 percent of tax payers would be unaffected by the change, opposition in Congress has been swift, much of it claiming that reducing the itemized deduction for a very small segment of wealthy households would lead to a reduction in charitable giving. However, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that there would be little impact, with charitable giving dropping by an estimated 1.3 percent. It also found the lower deduction rate would have a minimal effect on home-buying and home construction.

Many of the same Congressional leaders who have expressed opposition to reducing the deduction rate are also supporters of health care reform. Yet few have suggested a better way to pay for it.

Similarly, critics of the President’s proposal to reduce global warming by auctioning off permits to businesses that pollute have yet to explain how they would come up with the needed revenue. In addition to limiting greenhouse gas emissions, the plan would raise $65 billion in revenue to pay for permanent expansion of tax credits that reach the lowest-income families. These credits would reimburse families for the increasing costs of energy that will accompany efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and provide an important financial boost for the poorest families.

It is no longer acceptable for our political leaders to avoid making the tough choices when it comes to supporting government programs that make a difference to millions of people in need. Short term political gain may come to some of those who rail against increased domestic spending.  But the price will be a bleaker economic future for all Americans.

Click here to read a related opinion column, “Trillion-Dollar Deficits Are Not the Answer” by Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Deborah Weinstein does appear to be an advocate

While Obama throws over haul of the health care system and comunity organizing as methods of stimulating the economy and using fear to push his society changing programs – the idiots in congress who were willing to not read his previous stimulus pander along

What a bunch of sheep

Posted by volunteer | Report as abusive

This may be the fatal flaw in democracy – the inability to make tough choices. Like a family with four children that is run democratically, the end result is inevitably a bankrupt household loaded with toys, run by truant, morbidly obese children, lying around in front of the TV amid the clutter of empty pop cans, potato chip bags and candy wrappers.

How can any tough choices ever be made when we are governed by people interested above all else in re-election who will tell us what we want to hear – that we can have it all while reducing taxes further with each election cycle?

I see absolutely no hope that these problems will ever be addressed.

Posted by Pete Murphy | Report as abusive

So Deborah is advocating that we “borrow and spend our way out of debt”? I’m not an economist but come on….that is not going to work for government any more than it would for an individual, a business, or a family. And Pete Murphy is right about why democracies fail. Our democracy is now the longest lasting one in history, but it is coming apart at the wallet because politicians promise the moon and then deliver the bill to our kids and grandkids. It lasted as long as it did thanks to the foresight of our founding fathers, who wrote that great Constitution. Which is now being rewritten by activist judges who believe that the Constitution is a “living” document. Hogwash.

Posted by roger gilmore | Report as abusive

[…] Tough Choices Highlight Need to Amend Constitution 09/03/26/to-pay-for-vital-programs-congr ess-must-make-tough-… […]

Posted by Tough Choices Highlight Need to Amend Constitution « “Five Short Blasts” Forum | Report as abusive

Freedom is not possible with overpowering government, this is what our founding fathers ran away from, huge powerful all encompassing, tyrannical government. The purpose of competition is that it breeds cooperation with the buyer (i.e. the tax payer, the consumer), and there is a built in mechanism for ensuring services are honest and right, its called freedom of choice!

Our founding fathers understood that the states had power to govern, and that the federal government needed to be focused on a few things – ensure competition between states is fair, a military protection force, and provide for international relations and cooperation. This allows the states to govern closer to the people’s real need, and maintain competition between states for the best ideas in government. If you want health care, have you own state provide, not the federal government!! However, the simple fact is the more powerful our federal government becomes the very “greedy” people it complains about are the ones who end up running it, and corruption and totalitarianism is not far away. We cannot keep corruption in check in a federally run monopolistic system, there must be freedom and competition of ideas and solutions, otherwise society will degrade into the worst of conditions – even to the point of the government controlling what you can believe or how you live or where you live, or what you do for a living, what government job your children will be “given”, etc…. Government must be kept small, and reasonable in its power. Unfortunately politicians know how to take advantage of an ignorant society, people who know little of history and of the reality of how government functions, and who only look at the short term to government to take care of them. This is the first step toward societal slavery, and the US is on a downward spiral that will be almost impossible to stop until it is too late, and this great country and experiment of freedom will be short lived, and eventually disintegrate. The only hope is that people wake up and kick the democrats out, and balance the power in Washington before its too late to turn back.

Posted by Richard | Report as abusive

Freedom must not be without values, competition must not be at the expense of human lives, profit must not be made by selling our children’s children into servitude and slavery. This, our Founding Fathers most certainly understood, but some previous commenters and Republicans in general, refuse to acknowledge. Freedom is not possible as long as Republicans without values, morals, and ethics continue to endanger our lives and our very existence. We need a fundamental change in this country and the place to start is reforming healthcare and education which can be done as this article suggests. The posturing of anti-American Republican ideologues will not change the facts.

Posted by Leo | Report as abusive

Does this woman question? Does this woman think for herself?

Do people realize the hysteria for Hitler when he came to power? Too much worship instead of truly evaluating what is best for the country without the glorified personality worship puts us all in danger.

I wonder how much of what Obama advocates that she truly supports.

Posted by jos | Report as abusive

Anyone who’s read up on the history of the Great Depression understands that this is *not* the time to be worrying about fiscal austerity and prospective debt levels.

And anyone who’s aware of current policy challenges *can’t* seriously make a case for putting off attempts to deal with carbon emissions, American health care, infrastructure improvements, or other long-neglected issues.

Those who argue that we cannot deal with these problems because it costs money we don’t yet have, betray no sense of either history or priorities. They’d cut off our collective nose to spite our face.

And those who neglect even to mount an argument and merely attack the messenger, like the poster asking if this woman “thinks for herself”? They’re just reprehensible.

Posted by Chris M. | Report as abusive

I would like to see a government that has to budget according to our incomes and not a government that forces us to budget to their tax deductions.
The government, over both Republican and Democratic dominated times, has consistently assumed a practice of determining a budget and then just having us pay for it through tax increases or increased deficit. As a home owner I am not familiar with the practice of deciding what I want to buy and they either telling my boss to pay me more money accordingly, or just increasing my debt load arbitrarily.
I think we are all very aware of what an unrealistic debt load can do to banks and businesses and even home owners when things get difficult. If you doubt it, look at your 401K.
In case someone forgot, the government is supposed to work for us. But with polls saying most people approve the levels of financially unsupported spending proposed I would venture to say most people don’t understand how to balance a checkbook.
We are suffering from decades of both Republican and Democratic presidents making decisions about what to spend money on without actually reconciling where that money is coming from or who is going to pay for the debt generated. And now the solution is the same: create a trillion dollars more of debt and have the future pay it back when things are better. We’ve been doing that for many generations.
Warfare and Wellfare are both unsustainable expenses. If we don’t start accounting for this we will be turning over a second rate America to our kids.

Posted by allison | Report as abusive

Where is the authority for the fed: to institute socialized healthcare; bailout automakers, banks, insurance companies, etc.; have any interest whatsoever in the housing market (Fanny/Freddie); and too many other intrusions to list here? Certainly not in the Constitution.

I have a picture of Obama at my desk with the caption: “American is the greatest country in the world, and I’m gonna change that.” He’s well on his way, and like some others, I hope he fails.

Posted by Dobie | Report as abusive

Republicans are always the bad guys for not believing that government can solve all of our problems. Liberals, like this woman, think that throwing money into huge government programs will improve education and health care. Please tell me what programs the government runs efficiently and effectively? Why does the District of Columbia have the highest per capita spending on education and the worst test scores in the country? Throwing more and more taxpayer money into government bureaucracies does not solve problems. That’s a fundamental difference in the way Republicans and liberal Democrats think.
I think this quote sums it up well. “If you think health care is expensive now, just wait until it’s free”.

Posted by r j ross | Report as abusive

I can appreciate the concerns of Deborah, but I want to see results. We have spent more money of social welfare-type programs and we have not made a dent into the problem. The Democratic solution is to spend more money and of course, the Republicans didn’t do much better in reducing government. In my opinion, many of the disadvantaged in this country are there because it is too easy to be part of the welfare state.

I want to help people who need help, but not to fund them for the rest of their life an subsequent generations.

I will go along with plans that have an end result/solution, but this open-ended…throwing more money into the pit!

Posted by Tom Christenberry | Report as abusive

Why do we pretend to be surprised that all this is happening ?? We have become so lost as a Nation it is shameful. Have we forgotten our history ? Absolutely YES!!!!! We the People have allowed ourselves to be bribed and lied to for way too long. When did we lose sight of what it means to be an AMERICAN?? That is not a partisan question, nor should be the answer!! WE HAVE ALLOWED OURSELVES to be divided by Politicians for their benefit NOT OURs ? I’m ashamed to say that too many REPUBLICANs (the party of Lincoln) have lost their core values of conservatism . The corruption and greed has gone way out of bounds. The DEMOCRATs have strayed even farther from their values. The so called party of the working class no longer exists. They are the party of the NON-WORKING CLASS and ILLEGALs !! 48% of the people DON’T PAY TAXES… is for a reason—-VOTER BRIBERY !!!Their never endind social engineering led us to the FREDD/FANN disaster that was the catalyst for what we are seeing happen right in front of our eyes, yet most have no clue about. But now they get it and we just need to spend every dollar around and print even more to save ourselves….. Like the TRILLIONs already spent on the LIBERAL WELFARRE STATE that have helped so much. How do you deny,Horrible schools, fatherless children, high crime,rampant drug use, exploding jail populations ,genocidal homocide rates , all fruits of the liberal tree….No , just blame it on anything and anyone else .What about endless lawsuits by Trial Lawyers and the NO Teaching Unions that have done immense harm to this Nation and it’s OK because they are the BIGGEST DONORs to DEMs …. Now before you talk about big business, the DEMs got their hands in that also, GE , MSMEDIA ,FREDD/FANN , AIG, Teamsters, UAW all huge donors and supporters. You could go on and on… NOTHING WILL CHANGE , NOTHING. Since 2006 Dem controlled Congress has produced disaster with out taking any responsibility , it is all BUSH, nothing to do with 535 members of Congress…..We still hear that blame….But SPEND, SPEND ,SPEND. Barney , Dodd, Schumer , Obama, Clinton,Waters all great Dems that took boat loads of money business(look it up ) and defended the coming disaster that started the spiraling down….We are being conned so the Dems don’t waist the current crisis, they said so themselves…..They did all they could to bring BUSH down and they got their wish, only they brought the WHOLE COUNTRY DOWN ALSO, now they will ride to our rescue and save us all with debts we can never repay on things that won’t even help us (mythical green tech) But be sure it will HELP THEM , it is all about gettint re-elected….it has worked so far why stop now….We are doomed to fail and WE, yes, WE deserve all of it. What will the drones out there do when the Govt. can’t be your MOMMY anymore? What happens when their is no money to take from those that make it? When the evil corps can’t give jobs to unskilled morons who don’t even want to work. There are millions of them, look around. This no jobs stuff is tough right now but what about before? Plenty of jobs that all the bums don’t want, why should they? We pay to feed their kids and give them free healthcare. Oh I forgot it is not their fault either, it is the system and mean people like me that work…What then ? Another program to spend even more? Has anybody thought about it or is that not yet important for the next election cycle??!! Just remember Obama wants to pay down debt and balance budgets by spending TRILLIONs we don’t have. At least he was honest when he said— “America is the greatest country in the World and we are gonna fix it”. I’m gonna go throw up now , before they tax my puke. You never know and puke should be a big supply ,might be enough to fund free healthcare for all the illegals, who won’t be illegall when they give them amnesty. Fun to think like a liberal, all the answers are fixed just by changing words. Listen closely there is something for everyone……TIME FOR MY MEDs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by John | Report as abusive

If the bail out money used to debit in American citizens’ account, the economy might have rapidly improved. The bail out packages announced by govt. is nothing but giving more and more to corrupt organisation and the main beneficiary is a tiny section i.e. politcan, bureaucrats and big corporation.

If the govt. want to serve the people and peoples welfare, then immediate remit all the bail out money to directly to all its citizen of America, whether he/she rich or poor, everybody need to get benefit. Afterall they are the tax payers.

Posted by commonman | Report as abusive

If the bail out money used to debit in American citizens’ account, the economy might have rapidly improved. The bail out packages announced by govt. is nothing but giving more and more to corrupt organisation and the main beneficiary is a tiny section i.e. politcan, bureaucrats and big corporation.

If the govt. want to serve the people and peoples welfare, then immediate remit all the bail out money to directly to all its citizen of America, whether he/she rich or poor, everybody need to get benefit. Afterall they are the tax payers.

Posted by commonman | Report as abusive

Tough decisions on where to cut spending? Is this woman serious?

Why not cut spending on the War in Iraq?

Or the war in Afghanistan?

Or the Drug War?

Or on pork projects?

Or the department of education?

Or the department of homeland security?

All we have to do is cut spending on projects and sections of government that has proven to be a complete failure (which is our entire government).

I’m also not sure of which cave R J Ross was in for the 8 years of the Bush administration and his near 2/3 Republican Congress. You know, the ones who doubled the budget and grew government exponentially after the hypocrits talked about how Clinton spent too much.

Ron Paul supporter til the day he dies.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

The time has come to improve ourselves. We have been a victim by the elite. We are told that we cant have it; that we need to sacrifice but they continue by raping all of us and the elite makes it all.
George and the conservatism mentality let the elite have it all when they steel it AL From all of US. Behind a shield of Values and conservation on the back of the people.

Posted by Axel | Report as abusive

The great depression became “great” instead of the relatively short recession everyone else was experiencing at the same time because we were held captive by FDR and his brain trust of progressives, who likewise believed in handing out taxpayer money like it was manna from heaven. The money congress and Obama spends comes from *taxpayers*. If there are tough choices to be made, they might have to include reducing the grasp of the federal government, dismantling the dept. of Ed and turning that function back over to the states where it belongs. They might include a national lesson on hard science that puts an end to the demagoguery of the global warming issue. And if you MUST throw federal money at education, they might require a year of economics for high school seniors so they understand where government money comes from.

Posted by Kerry | Report as abusive

“And while cutting waste in such areas as Medicare, military contracts and farm subsidy programs are important sources of potential savings, they won’t provide enough to fund the desperately needed shift in priorities called for under President Obama’s budget.”

We spend $3 billion a year in subsidies to sugar farmers alone (the lion’s share goes to 17 agri-business companies). That’s just the sugar subsidies. These add up quickly.

Posted by Winchester73 | Report as abusive

I don’t think increasing taxes a couple thousand dollars for people that make over 250000 a year is going to ruin this country. It’s disgusting that taxes were ever lowered on that segment of the population. People who have benefited most from society should give the most back. Nobody succeeds on initiative alone. Rugged individualism is a mythology. If you think it is your own rugged smarts that have helped you succeed, try living in the wilderness without society for awhile. I bet you won’t be too successful.

Posted by Josef | Report as abusive

Liberals love to make us all pay for thier vision.

Don’t think so? The lady is this article herself says, “…These credits would reimburse families for the increasing costs of energy that will accompany efforts to reduce greenhouse gases …”

Which is liberalise for Democrats are going to double your electric bill.

Posted by Tony | Report as abusive

Apparently, the author of this opinion and the last two posters have lost sight of what happened to our country as a result of tax cuts, not government spending, since 1982. Our economy, under the philosophy of giving the money back to those who earned it, has created approximately 35-36 million jobs (net of the 1.4 million we lost in the last 6 months)!! That’s why the geniuses (the Founders, not Pres Obama) that set up this capitalistic economy wanted a small gov’t. and a free, self-reliant citizenry, not a Marxist/socialist concept, which the writer of this article either ideologically or ignorantly fails to realize. The policies she is championing will lead us in the Marxist/Socialist direction! She should do some research on comparisons of other countries with socialized health-care programs to ours (see 3/26/09 Investor Business Daily article presenting “factual” comparisons). Also try and review the body of scientists, not from the UN, who disagree with the “global warming treatise”. The university of Wisconsin (hardly a bastion of “conservative” thought) just published a study indicating the earth will cool for the next 20-30 years and then global warming will accelerate! The climate scientists we rely on for “global warming” scenarios couldn’t tell us how high the Red River would rise in 2-3 days, much less that Manhattan will be under water in 50 years!! Why tax our US industry at this time(and pass on the estimated cost of $3100/annually to all energy consumers-yes, even those who don’t pay “taxes”)when it is struggling mightily as a result of ORGANIZED BIG GOVERNMENT regulation and the greed of a few?
The policies espoused in this article will render our great American society bankrupt in 10 years, which will have a devastating effect on us all.

Posted by tom914 | Report as abusive

The Republican argument about reduction in charitable giving is preposterous. Nobody should depend on charity. The fact that there is charity, and that some people have come to depend on it, is a symptom of how polarized the society is, of the wide inequality created by the “free market”. Yeah, don’t reform the system so we can keep fleecing the sick; this way when they end up bankrupt because of their medical problems, they can come to us for charity, and we’ll give them, if we feel like it”.

Posted by Andy | Report as abusive