Opportunity? What Opportunity?

On March 12, the House GOP released its Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Resolution.  As I read the section titled, “Opportunity Expanded,” I found numerous ideas with which I took issue.

First, in the summary of the key components, they claim that “The American people know their needs better than bureaucrats thousands of miles away” (p. 8).  In some cases, this may be true, but then if it is, why do we send representatives to Washington?  So, you want to be in Washington, but being in Washington is bad?  This idea reminds me of the argument that euroskeptics make about the role of Brussels in the EU.

Next, they argue that “for millions of people, the American Dream is seemingly out of reach” (p. 19).  I happen to agree with them, but for all of the wrong reasons.  The GOP believes that big government has torn apart communities and is responsible for holding people back from success.  I would argue that our government has not done enough to help people succeed.  In a recent article, Lane Kenworthy proposes that “there is now less equality of opportunity in the United States than in most other wealthy democratic nations.”  He continues that “Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom” all rank ahead of the United States in intergenerational mobility.  Did you notice anything about most of those nations?  Many are social welfare states.  They have big governments; however, they are not just big, they are also smart governments.  They promote the general welfare.

The GOP says it wants to empower families and citizens.  Kenworthy asserts that “One simple, straightforward solution would be to get more money into the hands of low-income families with children.”  He then gives the example that many of the so-called welfare states actually give a “child allowance” to families with kids; the US, in comparison, gives a measly tax credit.  Another way to empower families would be to improve our abysmal policy on paid parental leave.  Check out this graphic from a recent article on the Huffington Post:

0204pregnancyleave_final

Another point of contention I have with the GOP is their idea to “ensure aid for higher education is targeted to the truly needy” (p. 19).  Who exactly are the truly needy?  Does this mean that if one’s family is not poor enough, then they might miss out on funding opportunities?  They devote paragraphs discussing the rising cost of college tuition and how students are graduating with massive debt.  Here’s an idea- decrease the cost of a college education.  Parents should not have to worry about whether or not they can afford to send their children to college.  Attending a university now in the US has basically become a privilege, not a right.  That is not the way to empower citizens.

The GOP believes that government spending is out of control, and they are partially correct; however, if we spend smarter, improve our tax code, and increase our tax revenue, we can begin promoting the general welfare again.  For more on this issue, I highly recommend Andrea Louis Campbell’s article, “America the Undertaxed.”

I urge our leaders in both parties to re-examine the status of American society.  I’ll close with a wake-up call from Javier Solana (the former Foreign Minister of Spain, Secretary-General of NATO, and EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy)- “Taking into account the level and quality of social protection, public education, and health care in the EU and the US, and without knowing beforehand what your social position would be in either society, where would you prefer to be born?”  What does it say about our country when foreign officials question the American government’s ability to take care of its citizens and provide them with the opportunity to thrive?  The GOP’s version of the budget will only perpetuate the problem of the lack of opportunities.

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