Democratic leaders on Friday hammered the Republicans' new budget proposal with warnings that it would devastate black Americans, who are already lagging far behind the rest of the country economically.
The lawmakers, with Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) chairman Rep. G.K. Butterfield taking the lead, said the GOP's 2016 spending blueprint makes the sharpest cuts to programs that benefit minorities most.
Enacting those cuts, they warned, would only exacerbate the gaping wealth and income divides that already exist between the races, worsening the cause of a black America that's already "in a state of emergency," in Butterfield's words.
"It's the same wrecking ball that we have seen for the last four [years]," Butterfield said on a phone call with reporters. "[It] will just wreak havoc in low-income communities."
The issue of minority poverty has taken on a new urgency in the wake of this week's riots in Baltimore, where protests denouncing the death of a young black man in police custody turned violent and reignited the debate about the government's role in improving the plight of poor black communities.
Democrats on Friday were quick to link the Baltimore tragedy to federal spending, arguing that the Republicans' proposed cuts will only further perpetuate cycles of poverty in places like Charm City.
"As we begin the process to seek justice for Freddie Gray, we thought it was important to also focus on the underlying systemic issues that give rise to the tragedies that we've seen. And that means a renewed focus on trying to address poverty," said Rep. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenReal relief from high gas prices Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama MORE (Md.), senior Democrat on the Budget Committee. "We need a new 21st century War on Poverty rather than the failed War on Drugs."
The Democrats singled out the Republicans' proposed cuts to student aid, food stamps, Medicare, neighborhood grants, public housing initiatives and substance-abuse rehabilitation programs as particularly harmful to low-income residents.
"What we see now are the Republicans cutting, through their budget, each and every initiative that has really helped our communities," said Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeHouse progressives urge Garland to intervene in ex-environmental lawyer Steven Donziger's case Overturning Roe would be a disaster for young women of color CBC's pivotal role on infrastructure underscores caucus's growing stature MORE (D-Calif.). "These initiatives … should be maintained and bumped up."
Republicans have soundly rejected that prescription, insisting upon the merits of private enterprise and warning that government programs only impede real economic recovery.
On Thursday, House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFeehery: The next Republican wave is coming Rift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power MORE (R-Ohio) highlighted that philosophical divide between the two parties, warning that the Democrats' solutions simply create "more dependency" at the expense of "expanding opportunity."
"Our government spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year on well-intentioned programs designed to help people get out of poverty. We've been doing this for decades," he said during a press briefing. "But from what we've seen around the country, it's clear that this approach is not working."
Unveiled Wednesday by House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), the Republicans' budget blueprint aims to eliminate deficit spending over a decade with roughly $5.3 trillion in spending cuts largely targeting domestic programs.
The House passed the budget bill Thursday with a vote of 226 to 197. No Democrats backed the bill, and 14 Republicans bucked their leadership in voting no.
GOP leaders are hailing the package — the first budget to be reconciled by the two chambers in six years — as a commonsense way to rein in federal spending while bolstering economic opportunities for all races and classes.
"The credible solutions we are championing will build a brighter future for all Americans – one where individuals and families will have more opportunity, a more effective and efficient government, access to more affordable health care choices, a healthier economy and a safer, stronger and more secure nation," Price said Thursday in a statement.
The Democrats have a decidedly different take, accusing the Republicans of sacrificing social programs that help the lower- and middle-classes while offering huge financial benefits to corporations and wealthy individuals.
"A budget is about choices," said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.). "Our focus ought to be more on Pell grants, student loans [and] increased opportunities for education particularly in areas of concentrated poverty.
"We can make better choices."