This article was originally published at TalkPoverty.org.
Congressional Republicans are rushing to finalize their tax legislation before the holidays. They haven’t held a single hearing, in part because their plan is one of the least popular pieces of legislation ever. It’s easy to see why: The Senate version of the bill would raise taxes on most families making $75,000 or less per year by 2027, while tying a big bow on permanent tax cuts for millionaires and large corporations. And after years of panicking over the size of the deficit, Republican leaders are now planning to balloon it by a whopping $1.5 trillion over the coming decade.
That tells you a lot about Congress’ priorities — especially since, for less than the cost of the Republican tax plan, Congress could eliminate child poverty in the United States. Twice.
According to the US Census Bureau, the 5.7 million poor families with children would need an average of $11,400 more to live above the poverty line in 2016. In total, the income needed to boost these families — along with the additional 105,000 children who were not living with their families — above the federal poverty level is about $69.4 billion per year in today’s dollars. Over ten years, that adds up to about 46 percent of what Congress plans to spend on its tax plan. There would be so much money left over after we boosted these kids out of poverty that the United States could also pay tuition and fees for all of them to get an in-state education at a four-year public university, and it still wouldn’t costs as much as the tax plan.
If Congress wanted to really let loose, and spend just 12 percent more than the tax bill does — for a total of $1.74 trillion — we could completely eliminate all poverty in America.
But instead of reducing poverty in the United States, Congressional Republicans are chipping away at the existing programs that support low-income people. Congress was so fixated on repealing the Affordable Care Act this summer that it ran out of time to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which insures 9 million kids. It has been 73 days since CHIP’s funding expired, and more than half of states could run out of money in the first months of 2018. Some are already paring back services in preparation.
And now, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and his fellow Congressional Republicans have announced that their next priority is cutting critical programs such as Medicaid, which provides health care to 2 in 5 US children, and Social Security, which is the nation’s largest children’s anti-poverty program. To pave the way for these cuts, Ryan and friends are already rolling out poisonous rhetoric that paints low-income families as lazy and idle — even though Census data show that most families with children living in poverty do work, and are just being paid so little they can’t make ends meet.
These policies are obviously cruel. But, for a group of lawmakers who fancy themselves business-minded, they’re also stunningly financially irresponsible. Child poverty costs the United States a lot of money: an estimated $672 billion per year in lost productivity, worse health outcomes, and increased criminal activity.
Instead, congressional Republicans are choosing to saddle the nation’s kids with debt — the very thing they’ve repeatedly accused past administrations of doing — to finance a massive giveaway to the wealthy.