What CA Voters Tell Us About Values In The Fiscal Cliff Showdown
As Americans begin to tune into conversations on the looming fiscal cliff (or "fiscal showdown"), voters in California already weighed in on a starkly similar scenario—and young voters helped move the state in a progressive direction.
After a 34-year streak of refusing to raise revenue for social services in the state, voters sided with Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who had asked them to vote "Yes" on Proposition 30, which would increase both the state sales tax and tax rates on those making more than $250,000 annually. The revenue, estimated at $6 billion, will be used to help avoid “catastrophic cuts” to the state’s public education system.
In essence, California voters were weighing on a value question: How much do we care about public services, like education, and what are we as Americans willing to do about it collectively?
And the answer was clear—California voters, particularly young people and Latinos, agreed supporting public education is crucial and that raising revenue is the way to pay for it. Millennial voters were even overrepresented, making up 28 percent of the state's electorate but comprising only 19 percent of the population.
Now, Congress and President Obama are facing a similar value question in the fiscal showdown.
The fiscal cliff is created by the convergence of several factors. More than a dozen Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire on Dec. 31. And if Congress can't agree to a new budget deal, there are $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that President Obama and elected leaders agreed to as part of the debt ceiling deal in 2011. This makes for a toxic cocktail that, if we go over the cliff, would place the economy in another recession.
Going over the cliff would extract $100 billion from our economy each year over nine years. About 50 percent of the automatic cuts would come from defense spending with the other half from federal programs that working-class and lower-income young Americans rely on as they work toward the middle class, including education funding, Medicaid, and housing support. As Imara Jones of Colorlines eloquently writes, going off the "fiscal cliff will be a self-inflicted catastrophe for the economy."
President Obama highlighted a bleak future for education if the proposed spending cuts take place, stating that about 10 million college students would see their financial aid packages decrease by an average of $1,000. He's also argued that allowing the cuts to take effect would try to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class.
President Obama’s proposal is to extend the Bush-era tax cuts only for those who make less than $250,000 a year; he also is suggesting a compromise in the spending cuts to avoid drastic slashes. Obama has vowed to veto and compromise that doesn't increase taxes on the wealthy. But House Republicans have said they will reject any plan that raises taxes on those making over $250,000, putting them at odds with the president's values.
If Congress cannot reach agreement on how to avoid the fiscal cliff, nearly every American would face a tax increase on Jan. 1.
Obama and his allies in Congress are working to convince Republicans to hike taxes on the top 2 percent of income earners, hoping to spare the bottom 98 percent from increased tax rates and drastic cuts to the programs that millions depend on. About 49 percent of American households receive benefits from a federal program.
This fiscal fight will prove to be an argument about values rather than finances, just as it was in California's Proposition 30. Will some members of Congress sacrifice the well-being of millions of Americans in order to protect their wealthiest constituents? Or will we agree, as voters did in California, that funding our social services is vital to a strong middle-class and that the wealthiest among us should pay their fair share?
A majority of Americans support the idea of increasing tax rates for top income earners, according to a recent CNN/ORC International poll. Among Millennial voters, the support is even higher—73 percent of Americans age 18 to 24 agree that “the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy," and 69 percent agree that “the government should do more to reduce the gap between rich and poor,” according to a recent report by Campus Progress Action and the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Some have noted, too, that the president's re-election was about these exact values; his chief pollster Joel Benenson wrote in the New York Times that Obama "won because he articulated a set of values that define an America that the majority of us wish to live in: A nation that makes the investments we need to strengthen and grow the middle class. A nation with a fair tax system, and affordable and excellent education for all its citizens. A nation that believes that we’re most prosperous when we recognize that we are all in it together."
Nationwide, Millennial voters were a crucial bloc in the recent election, making up 19 percent of the electorate, up from 18 percent in 2008. So it should be clear to newly elected officials and incumbents remaining in office how their young constituents feel about this issue: If it were up to young Americans to solve the fiscal fight, they would seemingly choose a plan similar to the one Californians put in place, one that includes a fair tax system and a strong middle-class economy.
Amanda Fox-Rouch is a reporter for Campus Progress.
- New Rules for Student-Aid Programs? Here’s What You Need to Know
- Dear Columbia Graduate School of Journalism,
- Whether You’re A Student, Graduate, Or Neither, These Congressional Decisions Will Affect Your Life
- Med Students Sick From Student Debt Malady
- Struggling Homeowners, Low-Wage Workers Protest in D.C.