Al_Franken_Official_Senate_PortraitThe current congressional budget debate has become much more than an argument about numbers. If we enact the policies contained in the Republican budget blueprint that passed both the U.S. House and Senate last month, it will take a long-term toll on our economy and on the future well-being of millions of Minnesotans and other Americans.

The Republican budget, which passed without a single Democratic vote, would shrink opportunities for middle-class families and those striving to get into the middle class. It would continue many of the same policies responsible for three decades of rising economic inequality.

The plan gives hundreds of billions in tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and safeguards tax breaks for companies that move American jobs overseas. To pay for those costly tax breaks, it cuts investments in the things that have always been the building blocks for middle-class job creation and American prosperity — education, research and infrastructure. It dismantles Medicare for millions of seniors who rely on its health care guarantee and slashes funding that helps lift families out of poverty. Perhaps worst of all, it actually raises taxes on millions of low-income and middle-class Americans.

Despite 62 consecutive months of economic growth, middle-class incomes have barely budged. Almost all the gains from our growing economy have gone to those at the very top. And let’s be clear: The problem with expanding inequality is not that those at the top are making spectacular gains; it’s that almost everyone else is seeing their income stagnate.

Under this budget proposal, families worth more than $10 million will see, on average, a nearly $4 million tax cut through elimination of the estate tax. Those tax cuts — which benefit the very richest Americans — would be paid for by tax increases on workers at the margins and on middle-class families. That includes cuts to the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps our lowest-income workers make ends meet, and the scaling back of the Child Tax Credit, eliminating the credit for families most in need.

For families working hard to pay for college, this budget makes it harder by cutting Pell Grants by $90 billion in the next decade. When I offered an amendment to eliminate those cuts to 8 million students nationwide — including 160,000 in Minnesota — it was roundly rejected by the Republican majority. The result: At a time when student debt has surpassed credit card debt in the United States, millions of students would be forced to take on an even heavier burden.

We know that infrastructure investments create good-paying jobs and help businesses and farmers move their products to market, but this budget cuts investments in transportation and infrastructure by $200 billion over the next 10 years. That’s a 40 percent cut at the very time when a growing infrastructure deficit in Minnesota and across the country has made our roads and bridges less safe, has stifled job creation and has undermined our global competitiveness.

The Republican budget also would force millions of seniors in Minnesota and across the country out of traditional Medicare, stripping them of its guaranteed health security and putting them into a risky voucher program. Telling vulnerable seniors to fend for themselves to find health coverage endangers their retirement security. This is wrongheaded, and I will fight it.

Finally, the Republican budget once again seeks to repeal the Affordable Care Act, even though we know that millions of Americans have gained health coverage because of it. In Minnesota, since the ACA went into effect, the uninsured rate has dropped by more than 40 percent, and now 95 percent of Minnesotans are covered.

I want our budgets to prioritize middle-class job creation and invest in economic growth. As a member of the Energy Committee, I’ve pressed for greater investment — not less — in research in advanced renewable-fuel technologies that will create 21st-century jobs and address climate change. As a member of the Education Committee, I’m pushing for more investments — not less — in early childhood education that pays for itself many times over and in college affordability, so that young people can enter the workforce without being saddled with crippling debt.

In short, we need budget priorities that work for all Americans. As the policy proposals contained in this budget resolution move through the Congress, I’ll work to find common ground to enact those that help the middle class and those striving to get there. But I’ll also stand my ground when proposals threaten future opportunity for people in Minnesota and across the country.

Al Franken, a Democrat, represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.