In news that has somehow escaped the attention of the Montana press, new Congressman Ryan Zinke voted last week for a Republican House budget framework that Paul Waldman, a senior writer at The American Prospect called “a virtual war on the poor and middle class.” As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, the House budget “derives more than two-thirds of its non-defense budget cuts from programs for people with low or modest incomes even though these programs constitute less than one-quarter of federal program costs.” In short, he voted for significant cuts to programs that middle and working class Montanans rely on.
Sure, the House budget is an intellectually dishonest exercise in partisanship that, for illogical example, counts savings from both the tax revenue generated by the Affordable Care Act and imaginary savings from ending it, but Zinke’s vote demonstrates clearly that his loyalties don’t lie with Montanans who rely on federal programs for education and health care, but the reactionary cabal running the Republican Party.
The cuts in education programs are especially damaging. As US News and World Report notes, the House budget not only freezes Pell Grant funding for ten years, but it cuts subsidies for Stafford Loans and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
David Reich, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, notes that the Republican plan will reduce grant levels and the number of students receiving grants:
This measure would create an immediate funding shortfall for Pell Grants that would have to be made up in annual appropriations, Reich said, likely forcing Congress to scale back the scope of the grant program. “Would they result in reduced eligibility, fewer students receiving Pell Grants, or would they come from reduced grant levels?” Reich said. “Probably both.”
That Zinke voted to cut Pell Grants comes as no surprise, given his rhetoric during the campaign, when he simultaneously said he supported and wanted to cut the program in news reports. His cynical vote to hurt Montana students is especially egregious, given that he told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle he relied on the program to pay for school himself.
Medicare and Medicaid
The budget framework also turns Medicare into a voucher program, because somehow the free market will solve health care costs without reducing medical care for seniors, a claim that is nonsensical on its face—and entirely unsupported in the House budget. Back in 2012, Paul Krugman explained that the Medicare voucher scheme is nothing more than a health care rationing scheme that made Sarah Palin’s imaginary “death panels” something to really fear, writing “so instead of making choices, we’ll let people die because of inadequate assets.”
And, of course, Zinke told Montana voters back in October that he didn’t support turning Medicare into a voucher program, but in his first chance to vote on the idea, he supported it.
The budget would also end the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, which, as we all know, would provide health care coverage to 70,000 Montanans if the Legislature got its act together.
Another program targeted in the House Budget will warm the space where Art Wittich’s heart used to be: the SNAP program, which provides food assistance for needy families. SNAP, despite being a target of Republican ire, does one thing very well: it lifts people out of poverty, some 4.8 million people in 2013 alone.
Remember when Congressman Zinke showed how much he cared about treatment for ALS by pouring ice water over his head in a campaign stunt? Apparently, he also wants to pour cold water over the hopes of people who believe the federal government should research debilitating and deadly diseases. As Inside Higher Ed notes, the budget will substantially hurt efforts to combat disease:
But it does propose slashing the overall pool of funding that Congress allocates each year across domestic programs, including research, by $759 billion over the next decade. Those cuts would “significantly impede our ability to advance science and combat disease,” said United for Medical Research, a coalition of groups that advocate for more federal funding for research.
Increase Military Spending
Despite all those cuts in the social safety net, education, and research programs, the House budget blows past the 2011 sequester cap and adds billions to the defense budget in a what Steve Ellis, a budget analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense calls “an insult to the intelligence of the American taxpayers. “They’re going to have this whole extra slush fund – now slushier than ever – for Pentagon spending.”
Health care? Education? Research? All necessary sacrifices to the false god of fiscal “responsibility,” but unneeded weapons programs and military adventurism? Sacrosanct.
The Tester Alternative
Unlike Congressman Zinke, Senator Tester gets that our budget should reflect the values and priorities of the general welfare of the nation. In his op-ed in the Bozeman Chronicle, he writes:
Instead of balancing the budget on the backs of middle-class families, seniors, students and our nation’s most vulnerable, we need to fully invest in our roads and bridges, in our outdoor economy, in early childhood and higher education.
Republicans used to believe in government support for infrastructure, in taking care of the elderly, and in providing the opportunity for a college education to students who might otherwise not have the chance to attend school and improve their lives. Fueled by a mixture of Fox News propaganda and self-interested Randian thought that often leads to members of Congress forgetting how they benefited from government assistance, the Republican Party and Congressman Zinke seem committed to budgets that make the moral statement that our country is every person for himself, unless that person happens to be a corporation or military contractor.
And that cannot be tolerated, nor can ignoring his votes. If Congressman Zinke won’t make the interests of the people in his state a priority, perhaps the Montana press can make it a priority to cover his actual votes in the future.