KIDS PAY THE PRICE FOR DEBT DEAL
In true form, the media coverage of the spectacle debt ceiling crisis failed to connect the details of how what was being debated would affect everyday life. It no surprise, then, that most Americans don’t even know that the debt deal is a real and present danger to thousands of people in their early years of work and raising children.
In fact, the blinding barrage of stories detailing the risk to retirement funds if an agreement was not in place by June 1 kept us focused on the wrong target. America’s financial institutions were always capable of exerting enough pressure to get a deal. And for them, any deal that that meant payment of the debt was completely acceptable – regardless of what else was on the table.
Meanwhile, the “Freedom Caucus” floated cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in exchange for their votes to pay the nation’s current debt despite knowing that these sorts of cuts would never even been proffered by their own leaders because it’s a universal fact that cuts to senior citizen programs are a sure pathway out of office.
But spending caps on nearly everything else was fair game and essential for Speaker Kevin McCarthy to keep his leadership position. As a result, as many as 62,000 families will lose access to affordable child care, according to the respected Washington policy center, the Center for Law and Social Policy. This is because funding for child care, like most other domestic spending, will be held flat for at least two years with only a smidgen of growth permitted in the years thereafter to 2033.
Already in Pennsylvania 38,000 children languish on child care center waiting lists. Employers across the state report that the shortage of child care is a top reason that they can’t fill jobs. Recent data shows the businesses are losing $1.6 billion in productivity, and the state is missing out on a $1 billion in taxes that workers would otherwise be paying if they could get their children into child care.
Out of the total $6 trillion national budget, the harshest budget caps apply only to $700 billion classified as discretionary spending, cutting the projected growth in those programs by $1.3 trillion over the next ten years. Discretionary spending includes things like early childhood education, public housing and homeless programs, public K-12 education, Pell grants for low-income college students, and WIC. In an unusual move, discretionary military spending (which stands at $800 billion) is greenlighted to grow to $886 billion in the current year with hefty growth built into the deal in the years ahead.
By decoupling defense spending caps from other domestic discretionary spending caps, McCarthy also broke with a bipartisan tradition established in the 2010s by President Obama and Speaker Boehner. In doing so he prioritized the military manufacturing sector over the needs of all other sectors of our economy. He protected his position of power at the expense of everyday American families and businesses.
Ironically, this deal actually weakens the defense of our country, both foreign and domestic, because early learning builds the foundation of an informed, active citizenry. According to Mission: Readiness, 77% of today’s youth are ineligible to serve, posing a threat to “our military preparedness, national security, and the security of our state.” This national organization, comprised of retired admirals and generals, names early childhood education as a remedy.
“Among [policy solutions] are high-quality early childhood education (ECE) programs that can aid in reducing the factors that lead to military ineligibility by helping children become healthy and fit adults, do well in school, avoid criminal behavior, and eventually pursue any career they choose—whether military service or otherwise.”
While the debt ceiling deal averted a financial crisis, it also picked winners and losers – and working families and their children most certainly lost.