GOP tax plan: If we're busting the budget, let's spend on real needs

By:  U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich

Any investments we make should go to tackling the challenges that working families confront every day.

Republicans seem to believe we can afford massive amounts of additional deficit spending, because their tax plan busts the budget by $1.5 trillion over 10 years to provide more tax breaks for the wealthy and special interests. If Republicans insist on deficit spending, imagine if instead we invested in our people and communities. 

Any investments we make should go to tackling real challenges that working families confront every day. For example, we could provide all children with early learning opportunities, offer students free tuition at community colleges and public universities, ensure broadband access for every American, rebuild our infrastructure and take bold actions to fight the opioid epidemic. 

It is well established that early learning improves cognitive and social development and lifelong earnings potential. Yet Head Start, the federal government's early learning program, serves less than one-third of eligible children, leaving 1.7 million children behind. For about $14 billion in new investment, a fraction of the cost of the GOP trickle-down economics scheme, we could serve all 3- and 4-year-olds in poverty.  

The absence of paid family leave in the United States exacerbates the gaps in early learning. In addition to providing health benefits to children, paid family leaveincreases the likelihood that workers will return to their jobs after the birth of a child. This, in turn, leads to a larger, more productive workforce. It’s time the United States joins the rest of the world and guarantees paid family leave. For $10 billion a year, twice as generous as the six-week, mothers-only proposal from candidate Donald Trump last year, we could.

Educational opportunities are no less important later in life. College is increasingly connected to financial security. But college now costs more than ever, and a growing share of students have been forced to take on more debt, and many are priced out of a college education altogether. The typical undergraduate borrows 6.5 times more per year than they did 35 years ago. We can’t continue on this course.

With states as our partners, we could invest $53 billion of the Republican tax giveaways in four-year and two-year community college tuition. That would expand opportunity and ensure the next generation doesn't graduate saddled with debt.

Our country has been talking about closing the digital divide for too long. One in ten Americans and nearly four in 10 rural residents lack access to high-speed internet and the economic and educational opportunities it enables. Waiting for the private sector to invest in sparsely-populated, low-income communities that won't earn companies a profit is not a path to success. The federal government must step in, and for less than $2 billion annually, we could connect all of rural America. 

Each year, households lose $3,400 in disposable income as a result of the impact of deteriorating infrastructure on productivity and economic growth. If we don’t invest in building 21st Century infrastructure, the costs will continue to mount and they will be shouldered by the next generation. Today, for about $44 billion of the $150 billion the GOP plans to spend each year on its experiment in trickle-down economics, we could repair, rebuild and modernize our nation’s roads, bridges, rails, water systems, schools and power grids.  

Instead of tax giveaways to the wealthy, we should invest in research and development that prepares us to compete in the future. Thanks to basic research, we have the laser, GPS and life-saving vaccines. But the federal government’s investment in this research has fallen in the past decade. For $19 billion, we could increase by 50% our investments in basic research, powering new innovations that drive productivity growth and improve lives. 

Finally, we need to wage a war against opioids. Every day, 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose. Addiction to heroin and prescription opioid pain relievers is devastating families and communities across the country. An investment of $4.5 billionthis year would enable critical investments in prevention and treatment. 

Imagine how different our world would look if everyone had a real shot at a college education, if every 3- and 4-year-old had access to quality preschool and if we had a strong paid family leave policy. What if we finally connected rural America and invested in our failing infrastructure, took on the opioid crisis with real money and invested in a stronger economy. We could make each of these solutions a reality if we took each dollar of deficits the Republicans want to enact and instead invested in our communities.