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Opinion: Raise the Caps to Raise Up American Communities

Congress needs to invest to keep America safe and prosperous

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is seen on a closed circuit television in the subway leading to the Rayburn Building in 2011, soon before the House voted on the Budget Control Act. (Tom Williams/Roll Call file photo)
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is seen on a closed circuit television in the subway leading to the Rayburn Building in 2011, soon before the House voted on the Budget Control Act. (Tom Williams/Roll Call file photo)

As President Trump and congressional leaders negotiate a framework for federal spending, it is important to stop pitting “defense” and “nondefense” investments against one another, when both are so critical to our common security and prosperity.

Only by treating these investments with parity can Congress do its part to promote the shared future American families and communities deserve.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 set caps for both defense and nondefense spending for the next decade, enforceable by sequestration. These austere and irresponsible limits were designed to be so bad they’d never be enacted, and today they are reviled by both Democrats and Republicans.

Yet without action by Congress, the maximum amount the federal government can spend on total discretionary investments will be cut by $5 billion in fiscal 2018. This is unacceptable, given that we should be doing more — not less — for both our armed forces and for American families and communities at home.

As we travel in New York and Kentucky, and speak with the leaders of federal departments and agencies, we hear about the need for greater investments in scientific and biomedical research, fully-funded veterans benefits, increased support for our schools and teachers, and expanded job training to prepare a 21st-century workforce.

We hear that the current state of our local infrastructure — roads and bridges, rail systems and water infrastructure — need more attention, not less. Families need more opportunities for affordable housing and rural broadband and development, not fewer. We need to do a better job of ensuring communities have access to clean and safe air and water.

The ongoing scourge of terrorism — both domestic and international — requires a robust and multifaceted response. Indeed, fully one-third of the so-called “nondefense” side of the discretionary budget has a focus on security.

We need to scale up — not pare back — our investments in:

  • Homeland Security grants to improve prevention and response to terrorism, benefitting states and municipalities like New York City, the nation’s highest target for terrorism, which has experienced two terrorist attacks in the last two months.
  • Veterans’ health services and other benefits that those who served have earned.
  • Diplomacy and international security assistance to help our allies around the world fight ISIS, human trafficking, narco-terrorism and other threats.
  • The FBI, Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Service and other federal law enforcement.
  • Public health funding to stop the spread of infectious disease and help prepare for bioterrorism threats.
  • U.S. attorneys and federal courts to prosecute terror suspects and other criminals.

It would be a missed opportunity of historic proportions if Congress fails to increase the caps on both defense and nondefense spending and fails to invest in critical priorities that are needed to keep America safe and prosperous.

Too often, under the guise of fiscal responsibility, the Republican majority has resisted a spending framework that meets the needs and priorities of American families. That excuse rings hollow after the majority’s hasty passage of their scandalous tax giveaway to large corporations and the very highest-income Americans. For a fraction of the cost of those massive tax cuts, we could fund a budget that makes responsible investments possible both at home and abroad.

By raising the defense and nondefense caps with parity — matching any increase in defense funding dollar-for-dollar with a nondefense increase — Congress can ensure our military remains powerful and capable, while also preserving and expanding the services and investments that are critical to Americans’ security, prosperity and our shared future.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., is the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., is the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

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