In January, I talked to Congressional Black Caucus chairman Emanuel Cleaver about the CBC’s then pending budget.
“It is extremely important to have a budget proposal that comes from the vantage point of poor people,” Cleaver told The Root at the time, adding that even if the document died in Congress, Americans would at least know “whose side” they’re on.
Well, the CBC Fiscal Year 2012 budget came out on Thursday. On Friday it was put to a vote in the House of Representatives, where members voted against it 303 to 103. While its failure to pass the Republican-controlled House came as a surprise to nobody, the plan still serves as a statement of the CBC’s priorities if not, in this particular Congress, a viable bill.
That statement, in a nutshell: The wealthiest Americans should pay a little more in taxes, the needs of the poorest should be protected, and the government should invest in innovation and research to remain globally competitive.
The CBC budget, for example, increases spending in education, job training, transportation and infrastructure, and advanced research. It also reverses some of the domestic spending cuts from President Obama’s 2012 budget, thus restoring the LIHEAP heating assistance program, community development grants and Pell Grants to current levels. However, the CBC claims its budget would still save $5.7 trillion on the deficit over the next 10 years by allowing the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy to expire, along with increasing other tax-based revenue such as closing certain corporate tax loopholes and preferences.
But the CBC wasn’t the only budget put to a vote on Friday. The House also voted on, and passed, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposal.
Ryan’s budget takes the opposite approach from the CBC, deriving savings from cuts to Pell Grants, free and reduced school lunch programs, the WIC nutrition program for poor mothers, food stamps, housing assistance, education and clean energy, along with privatizing Medicare and turning Medicaid into a block grant. Meanwhile, the budget cuts taxes for the rich. Voting along party lines, the House passed it 235 to 193.
Following the day’s votes, Congressman Cleaver issued a disappointed statement.
“Our nation's communities of color have been hit hardest by the effects of the recession. Even as our nation's economy slowly rebounds, our communities experience disproportionately higher rates of unemployment, home foreclosure, educational disadvantages, and economic hardship. As a result, vulnerable communities increasingly rely on public programs to meet their basic needs, but these are the programs the Republican Leadership eradicates with their budget proposal.
The Members of the Congressional Black Caucus believe that budgets serve as a window into the moral compass of a nation’s conscience—and our nation’s compass is horribly off. Recklessly cutting vital programs like job training, education, and health care to millions of hardworking American families is not a roadmap to balancing the budget.”
The budget moves to the Senate next. President Obama, however, already drew his line on it during a speech on Wednesday, in which he signaled that he's ready to push back in the forthcoming debate. His rhetoric will be put to the test, as that fight begins now.