Policy Resource

The Path to Austerity: House Budget Chairman Unveils His Map

Apr 6, 2011

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan yesterday unveiled his map for the FY 2012 federal budget, titled “The Path to Prosperity.”

The Committee is expected to approve this budget resolution today. While details are sparse, the journey to reach the smaller government envisioned by the proposal would be decidedly austere for Americans at the lower end of the economic spectrum—which includes almost half of all babies and toddlers.

The Ryan budget plan would reduce federal spending by $5.8 trillion over the next ten years, of which $4.3 trillion would come from cuts to actual programs and services. What does that mean for vulnerable families?

  • The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that about two-thirds ($2.9 trillion) of those program cuts would come from programs for low- and moderate-income people.
  • Entitlement programs would see far-reaching changes, including turning Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) into block grants and adding work requirements to a number of means-tested programs.
  • Domestic discretionary spending, the target of the ongoing 2011 funding battle, would continue to be caught in the deficit reduction vise. It would be rolled back to a pre-2008 level, capped at that level for 5 years, and squeezed for $1.6 trillion in cuts over 10 years.
  • Tax revenue enters the picture only to make the Bush-era tax cuts permanent (a $700 billion expenditure over 10 years for tax cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers) and propose a revenue-neutral tax bracket overhaul.
  • Spending cuts are thus necessary to pay for the permanent tax cuts and achieve the $1.6 trillion in deficit reduction accomplished by the plan.

At this point, we can’t tell how individual programs that support the development of infants and toddlers would fare. But we do know that the cuts needed to achieve that $2.9 trillion target most likely would be both broad and deep in scope. With all of the extremely large numbers being crunched, we easily lose sight of the fact that cutting dollars means cutting services to real children and families. Cuts, caps, block grants, and work requirements could potentially mean:

  • Fewer at-risk babies will get an Early Head Start on preventing the learning gap;
  • More infants and toddlers who are at risk for disabilities will fall behind and need expensive Special Education because they are shut out of Part C/Early Intervention;
  • Parents will scramble for already-scarce high quality child care when they have to meet new work requirements; and
  • Less access to comprehensive diagnostic and treatment health services critical to healthy early development if states cut back on Medicaid coverage

Vulnerable babies and their families need support in many different areas—health, nutrition, housing, family support, early learning—to ensure the healthy brain and physical development that helps them fulfill their potential. Shredding these supports through broad budget cuts makes the already depleted environments of almost half of all babies and toddlers even more austere. These kinds of cuts create a false economy that lead to greater costs later on. If the development of so many children falls short of what is needed to make them productive workers and citizens, the path to prosperity will be off the map.

Additional analysis will be posted on this blog as we dig through the proposal and more details become available. Keep in mind that this is a proposal for a blueprint of federal spending from just one House of Congress and that actual funding for individual programs would have to be set through appropriations or reconciliation legislation. The Senate has not produced it own budget plan, and given how the FY 2011 funding process has worked, the road to an agreement on FY 2012 funding is likely to be long and winding.

To help you navigate this road, ZERO TO THREE has released the third in a series of videos in which early childhood provider Stephanie Byrd guides you through the budget process. The newest video, The Total Budget Amount Matters, explains what’s at stake when budgets speak of capping funding and gives the why and how for infant-toddler advocates to get involved. For more on how the budget process works, read Babies and the Budget: Opportunities for Action.

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