By Rep. Keith Ellison, Co-chair, Congressional Progressive Caucus; U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th District
With yesterday’s vote behind us, Americans face an even bigger fight in the coming months: funding our government, avoiding devastating cuts known as sequestration, and avoiding default on our country’s bills. The most recent negotiations saw a massive grassroots effort that successfully protected Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits and investments in the middle class. In the coming negotiations, we must continue the fight. Here’s what we should do.
First, no more hostage taking. Last August, Republicans held the full faith and credit of the United States hostage in exchange for over $1 trillion in cuts that hit middle class families hardest. Everything from student loans for college students to fixing our crumbling roads and bridges was threatened by these cuts. President Obama is right to refuse to negotiate over paying the nation’s credit card bills. The debt ceiling has been raised dozens of times in the past, including 18 times by Ronald Reagan. We must join him in calling for a clean increase of the debt ceiling.
Second, protect Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are the backbone of every family’s income when they most need it. Medicare alone provides health care to 40 million American seniors and more than 8 million Americans with disabilities — and does so at a fraction of the cost of private insurance.
Inevitably, we are going to be asked about the rising cost of health care. We should welcome this conversation. Allowing Medicare Part D to negotiate lower drug prices for seniors — just like the Veterans Administration already does — will save more than $150 billion over 10 years. But cutting benefits has nothing to do with cutting health care costs, and actually increases costs for seniors. Raising the retirement age for Medicare would cost our own family members over $2,000 and increase health care costs by over $11 trillion. We won a significant victory in protecting benefits for our family members in these negotiations, and we must firmly oppose efforts to throw American families under the bus disguised as deficit reduction.
Third, additional savings should come from new revenue and the Pentagon, and any deal must include investments in American’s number one priority — new jobs. The middle class should not continue to foot the bill for tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. With over $1.7 trillion already cut from programs for American families and less than half of that amount raised in revenue, we have a long way to go before we have a balanced approach. We could save over $110 billion just by eliminating wasteful subsidies to oil and gas companies. My Inclusive Prosperity Act would raise hundreds of billions dollars just by taxing Wall Street trades by a fraction of 1 percent. Six members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have already proposed principles of tax reform, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers have called for Pentagon savings to be included in any negotiation.
The American people have our back. By large margins, people want us reduce the deficit by asking those who have benefited most over the past few decades to pay their fair share, and they recognize that cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits will only make our problems worse. In the end, our success will depend upon a grassroots movement to protect these priorities. As Abraham Lincoln said, “With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.” Now it’s up to us to make sure Congress listens.