This week, the U.S. Senate and House released their proposed budget plans. The National Center for Transgender Equality has worked hard to achieve a record number of advancements for transgender people and enforcing them depends on these budget negotiations. Without sensible leadership protecting adequate funding, hard-won protections for transgender people in healthcare and other programs will lose their strength and effectiveness.
While Representative Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray’s (D-WA) budgets are not final or binding, they set forth the visions of party leaders and will mark the starting point for budget negotiations later this summer.
According to Representative Ryan, his proposal would balance the federal budget in 10 years largely by cutting $4.6 trillion in non-defense spending. His budget proposes many of the same elements that were advocated by the Romney-Ryan presidential campaign plus some additional cuts. Representative Ryan’s budget proposes to reduce federal spending by:
- Repealing health care reform
- Eliminating Medicaid expansion and replacing Medicaid with block grants to states,
- Replacing the current Medicare system with a federal voucher system,
- Freezing funding for Pell grants for the next 10 years, and
- Cutting discretionary spending programs by $249 billion, which will substantially affect education and social safety net programs.
According to Senator Murray, her proposal would balance the federal budget in 10 years through a combination of spending cuts, tax increases, and economic stimulus efforts. Together with deficit reduction measures that are already in place, this budget plan would result in $4.25 trillion in savings. The Murray budget proposes:
- Replacing sequestration with more targeted spending cuts and tax increases,
- Closing tax loopholes that mostly benefit large corporations and wealthy individuals,
- Cutting healthcare spending by $275 billion and defense spending by $240 billion, and
- Investing in government initiatives to improve job training and repair roads and bridges.
The extreme spending cuts that are proposed in the Ryan budget could disproportionately affect transgender people and undercut the policy advancements that have been made in the past several years. For example, such deep and indiscriminate cuts could make enforcement of many civil rights protections more difficult and could eliminate federally-funded community programs that serve the most vulnerable transgender people. Slashing programs that serve people who are poor, homeless, unemployed, veterans, and/or are victims of violence would be especially harmful for transgender people who are over-represented in all of these populations.
Representative Ryan’s budget proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid and Medicare would significantly affect the accessibility and affordability of healthcare for transgender people. For instance, the plan to eliminate Obamacare would allow insurance companies to continue refusing to provide any coverage to transgender people simply because their gender identity is considered a pre-existing condition. If Obamacare remains in place, denying coverage to transgender people will become illegal beginning in January 2014. In addition, eliminating the Medicaid expansion would mean that thousands of low-income transgender people, who would have been eligible for Medicaid coverage starting in January 2014, would remain uninsured.
These critical budget negotiations are about more than balancing government spending. Allocating federal funds to or from federal programs is an expression of values by our elected officials. Congressional leaders have an opportunity to reaffirm equality and fairness for transgender people by bringing sensible and responsible leadership to these budget negotiations.