President’s fiscal plan a statement of our priorities

The president’s annual budget can be distilled as a statement of our country’s priorities. The budget President Obama announced this week sets those priorities straight. 

It’s not perfect and it’s not final. My colleagues on the House Budget Committee and I have plenty of work ahead of us in making sure we keep the United States on a path toward greater economic prosperity. As we continue the budgetary process, these are some of the priorities I will be keeping in mind: 

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• Paying our bills while investing in our future: The president’s budget continues to reduce our national deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years. At the same time, it provides billions of federal dollars to be invested in our transportation infrastructure, modernizing our schools and creating jobs. This approach falls right in line with what I have said numerous times: Our nation has never overcome an economic challenge without federal and private investment. While we must reduce our deficit, we must also act now to cultivate a more prosperous future. 

• Providing for our safety: As the author of legislation that established two federal programs providing aid to community fire departments — and as co-chairman of the House Law Enforcement Caucus — I took up the fight last year against House Republicans who tried to gut these programs, as well as programs that provide aid to local police departments.

• The president understands what many in Congress last year did not: Public safety is critical to our homeland security. I couldn’t be more pleased by the president’s proposal for a $5 billion First Responder Stabilization Fund. The fund would provide immediate assistance for the retention, rehiring and hiring of thousands of firefighters and police officers in fiscal year 2012. This is in addition to the proposed base allocations to these programs for fiscal 2013.

• A fairer, more-equitable tax system: As a House Ways and Means Committee member, middle-class tax relief has been a top priority. I am pleased that the budget includes policies that use middle-class tax cuts to put money back in the pockets of working Americans. These are the people who drive our economic growth. 

The president’s budget contains $138 billion in tax relief for America’s middle class, including extending the payroll-tax cut through the end of 2012 and providing $1.9 trillion over 10 years for permanent relief from the antiquated Alternative Minimum Tax.

This budget also builds on the reemergence of American manufacturing by providing $121 billion in tax incentives for manufacturers that keep Americans working here at home. There are also $25 billion in tax incentives to small businesses, the engines that drive our national economy. 

I am concerned that the president’s phase-out of municipal bonds tax preferences will result in higher borrowing costs for communities and fewer infrastructure projects and job opportunities. 

• America for all: Americans who paid into benefits for years deserve to receive them, and this budget keeps that promise. Through the landmark healthcare reform legislation — which I helped write as a member of the Ways and Means subcommittee on Health — this budget saves more than $360 billion by reducing waste, fraud and abuse in Medicare, Medicaid and other healthcare programs. This funding will help make these programs more solvent in the future. 

But America has a particular obligation to keep its contract with our veterans. That is why, as co-founder and co-chairman of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, I greatly appreciate the president including in his budget $1.4 billion for traumatic brain injury care and psychological health. Our veterans are willing to sacrifice everything for America. America must do everything we can for them.

• Serve people, not partisan politics: Last week, Congress’s approval rating hit an all-time low of 10 percent, and it’s no wonder. We couldn’t afford last year’s crippling impasses on the debt ceiling and the payroll-tax cut, and we can afford them even less today. The American people will not abide another year of a dysfunctional Congress, caused by a small faction of right-wing extremists uncompromisingly committed to a singular agenda. This year’s budgetary process should be marked by Congress’s efforts to help provide the greatest good for the greatest number of Americans.

Pascrell serves on the House Ways and Means and Budget committees.