House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget slashes programs that benefit women and families and neglects important investments in future generations.
by Caroline Dobuzinskis
It’s in the Numbers
There has been an onslaught of criticism in the media about how Representative Paul Ryan’s budget doesn’t add up in terms of the numbers on unemployment, job creation, and the deficit. But little attention has been focused on the major impact the Chair of the Budget Committee’s “Path to Prosperity” would have on many women and their families—now and in the future.
How would women and families be affected? The premise for Ryan’s plan is a Congressional Budget Office deficit projection based on current levels of taxation and government spending. But Ryan does not propose any tax increases—maintaining President George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the rich and for corporations indefinitely, and lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent. As Jay Bookman notes in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Ryan offers no concrete plans to address Social Security’s solvency issue, only passing the buck. What he does propose are a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and drastic spending cuts that would place the burden of cuts on lower income Americans, and especially women and families.
According to calculations from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities two-thirds of his cuts are for programs that serve low-income Americans, including the much abhorred, and likely unsustainable, cuts to Medicare which would leave many retired Americans paying more than half of their income to cover the costs of private health care.
Needlessly Punishing Those Who Need Aid Most
Ryan’s proposed spending cuts to Medicare senselessly punish the millions of retired Americans who lost assets in the Great Recession and are struggling to maintain even a modest standard of living. IWPR’s report, Social Security Vital to Women and People of Color, Women Increasingly Reliant, paints the picture of a retired generation that lost assets in the past decade and are increasingly dependent on Social Security. Adding private health care costs would create an additional strain and would go against the sentiment of most voters.
Women have historically relied on Social Security more than men due to pay disparities in their working lifetime and a related shortfall of private pensions held by women. The report shows that, between 1999 and 2009, the number of men aged 65 and older relying on Social Security for at least 80 percent of their incomes increased by 48 percent (from 3.8 million to 5.7 million) to equal more than a third of all men aged 65 and older in 2009.
According to a February NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, many Americans do not support cuts to Medicare and most oppose turning it into a voucher program. And IWPR’s survey research has shown that most Americans, Republican and Democrat alike, do not support cuts to Social Security either and favor candidates who support the program. Six out of seven are not opposed to paying higher taxes in order to provide security and stability to retired Americans.
Dismissing Investments in Women and Families
The increased burdens on Americans, particularly women and families, do not stop there under Ryan’s plan. As the National Women’s Law Center notes in their statement on the proposal, a repeal of the ACA would again make being a woman a pre-existing condition that could allow insurance companies to charge women more. Another stress piled on women and families: covering the costs of health care for young people who are graduating from college with limited job prospects (ACA allows dependents to stay on their parent’s plan until age 26).
The health of children is also at stake with these cuts. The ACA includes important provisions for hourly and typically low-income workers to pump breast milk at work—an important step for getting closer to the Department of Health and Human Services’ goals for rates of breastfeeding.
Another important reason that this plan will be a blow to families and their economic prosperity is that it doesn’t allow much—if any—room for investment in jobs or in the future.
Back in February, Ryan’s comments on President Obama’s budget demonstrated his lack of interest in investing in young people and families. “It sounds like the similar budgets that he has been giving us the last couple of years,” Ryan said. “It looks like to me that it is going to be very small on spending discipline and a lot of new spending [sic] so-called investments.”
President Obama’s plan does call for major cuts to programs that could advance the United States in the knowledge-based economy and competitive global marketplace: high-speed rail, education, and science research.
But what Ryan fails to recognize is that investments in education will help future generations to achieve economic independence for themselves and to support families. For example, cutting Pell grants as proposed would mean that fewer students could go to college, fewer will obtain high-paying jobs, and more will be left to rely on the very services that Ryan proposed to cut.
Already, many student parents (a group that makes up nearly a quarter of all the country’s postsecondary students), lack access to childcare facilities. Faced with the pressures of caring for their families while going to school, some are forced to drop out before achieving certificates or degrees.
Providing supports to all students, including student parents, is imperative for the country to meet the challenges of the knowledge-based economy. Currently, the U.S. has slipped to 12th out of 36 developed nations in rates of postsecondary graduation.
Ryan’s plan leaves families and future generations without access to resources for advancement. This is not the road that we want to go down.
Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.