Services for American families have been under constant attack over the past several years. Head Start slots were cut, Meals on Wheels deliveries were curtailed, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has been squeezed. House leaders have repeatedly insisted the country cannot afford such programs while continuing to push forward hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for corporations. What could we as a nation invest in if we ended these special tax favors?
It was a long and cold winter in Washington, DC, in more ways than one. At the end of 2013, Congress allowed Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) to expire, leaving 1.3 million Americans who had been without work for more than six months suddenly cut off from their lifeline benefits. Unemployment benefits don't provide a lot – about $269 a week on average – but it is enough to put some food on the table, pay the most urgent bills, and hang on by your fingernails until work can be found. Without this support, many families are forced to drain their retirement accounts and sell their belongings. Some face homelessness.
Polls show that more than three-quarters of Americans support an increase in the minimum wage. Approximately 76 percent support raising the minimum wage to at least $9 an hour, and as many as 73 percent support an increase to $10.10, the minimum proposed in the Fair Minimum Wage Act, sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA). That bill would raise the minimum wage over two and a half years and then peg future increases to inflation. Raising the minimum wage enjoys broad bipartisan support: when polled, 58 percent of Republicans expressed support for increasing the minimum wage to $9 per hour.
A self-inflicted economic disaster looms on the horizon. Failure to approve a routine measure allowing the U.S. to manage its finances and pay the bills it already owes would have devastating effects. Increasing the debt ceiling is the only way to avoid a destabilization of the American economy.
Last week, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) introduced the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, which would restrict the use of offshore tax havens by corporations. At a time when corporate profits are high by historic standards, the bill could raise money for vital government programs and reduce the deficit. The legislation is a slimmed down version of the Cut Unjustified Tax (CUT) Loopholes Act of 2013 (S. 268), introduced earlier this year.
President Obama has proposed increasing "means-testing" within the Medicare program as a way to reduce the federal budget deficit; in other words, higher-income seniors would pay more for their health care under the program. This is one of the worst ways to achieve savings through cuts to Medicare and could impose significant costs on middle-income seniors, reduce health care coverage, and undermine political support for the effective program.