Nancy Pelosi

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WOMENSENEWS)–As GOP lawmakers argued Wednesday for budget legislation that cuts $39 billion in spending for federal programs during the next five years, Democratic leaders and other critics said the legislation belied the president’s avowals of compassion during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.

“Last night in the State of the Union we heard a great deal of rhetoric about investments the president was going to make,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said on the House floor during the budget debate. “But this budget today tells a different story… The truth is that this budget is an exact contradiction of the rhetoric the president presented last night.”

Pelosi said the policies in the budget would widen the U.S. deficit by $300 billion and heap “mountains of debt” on the country’s children.

The legislation squeaked through the House of Representatives by a two-vote margin, with a number of moderate Republicans supporting Democratic opposition, and now goes to the president to be signed into law.

Republican leaders brushed off criticism and said the bill will help move more people off the welfare rolls and into work. The law will accomplish this even as it trims $99 billion during the next 10 years from the ballooning federal budget–a savings they said will rein in federal spending and help reduce the deficit.

The bill’s backers also praised the new welfare rules, which would require states to increase work participation rates among welfare recipients and would channel $1.5 billion to marriage promotion programs. The budget bill also gives states the option to eliminate family planning services for beneficiaries of Medicaid.

The $39 billion in cuts are “a very modest savings” that is “a step toward smarter, more competent government,” said Rep. Adam Putnam, a Republican from Florida.

However, Rep. Hilda Solis, a California Democrat who co-chairs the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues, argued on the floor: “Just last night President Bush spoke about working together” to help Americans. “But this legislation pays for the prosperity for the richest, the wealthiest in our society.”

A Narrow Victory for Republicans

Wednesday’s narrow legislative victory, Republicans hope, will help the GOP reclaim the mantle of fiscal conservatism as they enter the 2006 mid-term election year. Under President Bush, spending has soared due to the war in Iraq, a new prescription drug benefit and emergency disaster relief.

Republicans also hope to pass a proposed $70 billion package to extend current tax cuts that critics said primarily benefits the wealthy.

If that happens, not only will single-parent families suffer from stiffer welfare rules and scaled-back government services under the budget changes, but they would reap little from a tax relief package skewed toward wealthy individuals and corporations, critics of the bill argued.

“What this bill does is ask the most vulnerable people in the society to tighten their belts so that the most affluent can have a tax cut,” said Paula Roberts, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Law and Social Policy, an advocacy group for the poor in Washington, D.C. “That’s morally wrong.”

Brian Riedl, a scholar at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., countered that government revenues have increased even as Republicans in Congress and the White House have enacted tax cuts. The $99 billion in cuts over 10 years–or $39 billion over the next five years–is a modest antidote to a serious addiction to federal spending, he said. Without the cuts, he said, Americans will face hefty tax increases in the years ahead.

Cuts Aimed at Curbing Spending

“Right now, federal spending is growing at an unsustainable rate,” Riedl said, noting that spending has grown by 33 percent since 2001 and is projected to grow another 39 percent over the next five years. The $39 billion in cuts merely reduces the five-year growth rate from 39 to 38 percent, he said.

“It represents a good first down-payment on spending restraints, but much more has to be done in order to keep the overall cost of government from rising to stratospheric levels,” he said.

Government savings will come from a reduction in spending on a variety of programs, including education, health care, agriculture, housing subsidies and transportation.

The budget cuts to health care programs will account for roughly half of the $99 billion in projected savings over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan agency affiliated with the legislative branch in Washington, D.C.

Women’s rights groups criticized these cuts in particular, saying they will hurt beneficiaries of the government Medicare and Medicaid programs for the elderly and low-income people, the majority of whom are women. Women earn less than men, are less likely to have access to health care and other benefits through their jobs, and are more likely to have part-time jobs or leave the work force to care for family members.

Focus on Health Cuts

These cuts will force the poor to pay more for health care, or delay or forego it because of higher co-payments and premiums, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Fiscal conservatives argue that in the long run all Americans at every economic level will benefit from smaller government.

“A lot of these liberal groups come from the assumption that spending comes from nothing and that any increase in spending is good because we’re helping people, but there is a cost to it,” said Carrie Lukas, director of policy for the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative advocacy group in Washington, D.C. The cost, she said, comes in the form of higher payroll taxes, which cut into family budgets and slows job creation.

The proposed tax cuts, she argues, will alleviate that problem and enhance job creation, which she said would help women as they move in and out of the work force.

Fiscal conservatives also praised the new welfare laws for their effect on the economy.

But critics said the new requirements are too strict and carry unfair penalties. They also faulted lawmakers for failing to adequately fund child-care programs but spending money on untested marriage promotion programs.

As a result, states will cut assistance to needy families, and the children of single parents will go without child care, said Mark Greenberg, director of policy at the Center for Law and Social Policy.

Allison Stevens is Washington bureau chief at Women’s eNews.

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at [email protected].

For more information:

Center for Law and Social Policy:

CBO Cost Estimate of the Deficit Reduction Act

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Note: Women’s eNews is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites and the contents of Web pages we link to may change without notice.