Recently, President Obama has been urging Congress to pass legislation that will provide $50 billion in aid to the states to fill budget gaps related to education/teachers, health care, and emergency personnel such as police and firefighters. Specifically, the legislation includes “$23 billion to help prevent teacher layoffs, $25 billion for state healthcare aid and $2 billion for cops and firefighters.”
The idea is simple. Without the aid, states will be forced to cut jobs and services in these areas, increase deficits, raise taxes, or a combination of these. Regardless of the outcome, it will have a disastrous effect on states already struggling to make ends meet while reviving their economy.
The plan, however, is meeting resistance from both parties, particularly from Republicans. Some Democrats, such as Majority Leader Steny Hoyer have asked Obama to consider using unallocated funds from last year’s stimulus bill. Republicans are pointing to the fact that Democrats are not abiding by their own Pay-Go (Pay-As-You-Go) legislation which requires new spending to be paid for by cutting spending or raising taxes.
Both of these are reasonable suggestions. Using unallocated stimulus funds would be the ideal starting point. But Democrats must abide by their own Pay-Go legislation. This legislation was a highlight of the 2006 and 2008 campaigns and was a noble effort to rein in government spending to some degree. Some fear abiding by Pay-Go will bog the discussion down in a debate over what gets cut. That concern is valid. However, it is doesn’t merit falling delinquent on promises made both on the campaign trail and after retaking control of Congress.
Funding for these areas, particularly education/teachers, is desperately and urgently needed. In the last several years, school districts across the country have cut through fat, muscle and have since been forced to cut deep into the bone. Individual districts have faced deficits exceeding $5 million in recent years leading to school closures and pink slips for dozens of faculty and staff. Those districts that pass property tax increases risk forcing struggling homeowners onto the streets. Clearly, this has disastrous effects on the economy in the short and long term as jobs are lost and quality of education suffers.
I feel the Democrats should begin with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s suggestion of checking for unallocated stimulus funds. Not only would this be the most politically viable option, but it would allow the funds to be allocated relatively quickly. Foregoing this option, Democrats should call Republicans’ bluff and abide by Pay-Go. Find some ineffective or obsolete programs, slash $50 billion, and force Republicans to put their votes where their mouth is. (As noted in my first post “Addressing the National Debt,” former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and current Defense Secretary Gates have called for streamlining and modernizing the military, scrapping billions of dollars in outdated programs.) Doing so would be fiscally responsible, good policy, and good politics heading into the midterm election.