By Cynthia McCabe and Sara Robertson
With the Aug. 2 deadline for raising the nation’s debt ceiling just a week away, negotiations among top policymakers in Washington continue to stall. President Obama urged Americans on Monday to act now, to help protect students, elderly and middle class working families.
He’s calling for a balanced approach to addressing the nation’s deficit – one that ensures that the wealthiest in our nation pay their fair share. In a speech Monday night, the president outlined the catastrophic results of failure to reach a sensible agreement this week.
“The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government,” Obama said. “So I’m asking you all to make your voice heard. If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your member of Congress know.”’
Take action today on this issue! Visit NEA’s Legislative Action Center now to email your member of Congress and tell them to compromise on a balanced approach that protects the most vulnerable and ensures those most able to do so pay their fair share. You can also call Congress and be directed to your member, at (202) 224-3121.
Refusal to raise the debt ceiling could lead to default on the nation’s financial obligations. Translation: the U.S. won’t have enough money to pay all of its bills, including monthly Social Security checks and veterans’ benefits. For the first time in history, the country’s credit rating would be downgraded. Interest rates would skyrocket on credit cards, mortgages, and car loans, which amounts to a huge tax hike on the American people.
“Most Americans, regardless of political party, don’t understand how we can ask a senior citizen to pay more for her Medicare before we ask a corporate jet owner or the oil companies to give up tax breaks that other companies don’t get,” Obama said. “How can we ask a student to pay more for college before we ask hedge fund managers to stop paying taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries? How can we slash funding for education and clean energy before we ask people like me to give up tax breaks we don’t need and didn’t ask for?”
A proposed Senate plan that enjoys bipartisan support reduces the deficit by around $4 trillion, makes historic cuts to government spending and puts the U.S. on a path to pay down our debt.
A competing House plan proposed by Republicans contains only cuts to spending and asks nothing of the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to help raise revenues. Because nothing is asked of those at the top of the income scale, it would close the deficit only with more severe cuts to programs that aid America’s working families.
Earlier this week, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel urged Congress to think of the American middle class and students before they thought of the wealthiest few percent of citizens.
“To the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association and the students and families they serve, there are two very different visions playing out in this fiscal debate: one that favors those with great wealth and one that harms those without,” Van Roekel said.
One in three children in this country rely upon Medicaid as their sole source of healthcare.
“It would be unconscionable for lawmakers to even contemplate punishing children with a budget deal that asks nothing of billionaires or corporations that paid no taxes last year,” Van Roekel said. “The students we serve come to school every day more worried, more at risk, and more liable to fall through the cracks. To rob children of their futures by putting their very health at risk would be reckless and immoral.”
As of 2010, 68 million people are covered by Medicaid, including one third of America’s children. Children who lack access to health care services are less likely to come to school healthy and ready to learn and to succeed academically.
“Our members want to remind negotiators that the measure of a country’s greatness is in how it treats its children, it seniors, and its most vulnerable. Any budget plan must leave life-preserving programs such as Medicare and Medicaid untouched,” said Van Roekel.
View President Obama’s full remarks from Monday:
Photo: Pete Souza/White House