By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Never kick a man when he is down. Yet, on both the state and national level, there are Republican-led policy proposals poised to do just that. Whether the federal debt ceiling or the state shared revenue discussions, it is clear that much needed resources for our citizens and communities are nothing more than political bargaining chips. Let’s take a look at the debt-ceiling first.
Created by Congress during World War I, legislators realized that the federal government often has a number of financial responsibilities and activities that are not fully covered by federal revenues alone. Much like our household budgets, the government may need to borrow money or incur debt to pay all of our bills.
The Treasury Department was given authorization to borrow money, by issuing bonds. A pre-determined debt-limit, or debt-ceiling was put in place to identify the maximum amount of money borrowed to meet existing legal obligations. If the government reaches the debt ceiling, we could no longer borrow money, default on outstanding loans, take a negative hit to our credit rating, and see our overall economy hurt.
As crazy as it may sound, the U.S. government is always financially in the red. We run an annual deficit and could certainly default on our obligations. The current debt-ceiling is $31.4 trillion dollars and Congress needs to raise the limit by June. The Treasury Secretary has warned, that if something isn’t done, we could reach the debt-ceiling in a few days and have just enough resources to operate the government until June. Wait…does this sound familiar?
According to the Treasury Department, since 1960, Congress has acted 78 separate times to permanently raise, temporarily extend, or revise the definition of the debt limit – 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democratic presidents. This isn’t new, but this week U.S. House Republicans decided to attach a number of policy demands to the bill to raise the debt-ceiling.
Threatening to reduce safety-net programs like food share benefits, adding some Medicaid work requirements, and cuts to rental assistance programs are just some of the tactics that GOP House members are hoping to use as leverage to force the Biden Administration to the negotiating table.
Similarly in Wisconsin, both the County and City of Milwaukee are facing dire financial deficits. Instead of reaching a ceiling, we are close to falling off a financial cliff. Local officials have petitioned Republicans in Madison to increase the amount of shared revenue and allow them to impose a sales tax. The response from legislators included: no increase in shared revenue, a sales tax that’s earmarked for police and firefighter pensions, mandates for Milwaukee Public Schools, elimination of property taxes used to fund City departments like the Office of African-American Affairs.
At both levels, there is a lot to unpack. But when you’re done sifting through the details of these proposals, you are left with a policy prescriptive that kicks Americans when they are down. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Perhaps, I should say the rich get corporate welfare, political allies get funded and the poor are asked to foot the bill.