Usually I try to stay away from overtly political posts (ones that take a stance on pieces of legislation or on political candidates) unless the issues or people discussed are highlighting a particular issue of race, religion, gender, weight, sexual orientation, class, or ability that needs discussed. This week, though, I figure my criticism is bipartisan, so I suppose it’s alright.
I have been pretty concerned as I have watched closely the negotiations in the U.S. Congress over budget cutting in the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years. Now in all of this, I definitely understand the need for budget cuts and austerity measures (though I am not convinced of the economic wisdom of budget cutting when the economy is only first starting to emerge from recession). What is concerning to me, though, is the nature of the budget cutting being proposed. To understand this reality, let’s first take a look at what Americans would prefer to see cut if cuts need to be made:
According to the Wall Street Journal poll, of the 26 ways listed to cut the deficit, the most popular were: “placing a surtax on federal income taxes for those who make more than $1 million per year (81 percent said that was acceptable), eliminating spending on earmarks (78 percent), eliminating funding for weapons systems the Defense Department says aren’t necessary (76 percent), and eliminating tax credits for the oil and gas industries (74 percent).”
In the face of this democratic reality, though, both Republicans and Democrats are proposing budget-balancing measures that look to cuts in social discretionary spending as the primary means to the end of deficit reduction (even though it would be mathematically impossible to balance the budget in this way with such spending only accounting for 24% of the federal budget). Take President Obama’s budget, for instance. Not long after flouting the will of the people and signing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans into law, Obama released a proposed 2012 budget that cuts deeply into social spending for the poor as it looks to reduce federal spending by $1.1 trillion over the next ten years. One of the most notable social cuts that Obama proposes is a $2.5 billion cut to the $5.1 billion Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program budget. This program exists primarily to provide home-heating energy assistance to low-income families, a service that is particularly necessary in the climate-change-induced harsh winters and the current economic hard times. That’s the kind of change I can believe in!!
On the other side of the aisle, the Republicans go much, much further in their attacks on low-income individuals and families. After virulently fighting to ensure that rich folks receive a tax cut that expands the deficit by $858 billion over the next two years (in direct contrast to the popular will, I might add), the 2011 budget coming out of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives hosts a wide array of attacks on those at the bottom of the economic ladder.
All of this would be cut while Congress’s budget actually is increased or maintained at minimum in the proposal (meaning that Congress has room to increase their salaries and pay their staffers). Further, Republicans called it unacceptable when Obama proposed to eliminate tax breaks for oil and natural gas companies and their insane profits – a change that would equal $36.5 billion per year in increased governmental revenue while BP alone (the same ones who poisoned the Gulf of Mexico through their negligence) makes $22 billion a year in profits.
The irony in all of this is that when he proposed his plan to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, Obama was accused of “class warfare.” Sure . . . it’s class warfare when we attempt to return taxes on everyone who makes more than $250,000 per year (less than 10% of the population) to the levels of the relative economic bliss of the 1990s, but when we plan to unleash a torrent of cuts that would drastically affect the quality of life of middle-to-low income Americans, they are called austerity measures. Essentially, the message is, “We’re in power. You’re not. Shut up and swallow your medicine.”
Now, this is particularly problematic considering that these cuts would be unlikely to affect the members of congress in any great way, particularly as the greatest predictor of your ability to get elected in this country is your personal net wealth. For instance, the net worth of the top 25 members of congress all are more than $24 million dollars. Obama himself has a net worth of about $10 million. The tax cuts they passed primarily benefit them, for gracious sake!!
The point here being that the rich in this country generally will vote vehemently to protect their own wealth (even when it flouts popular will), but they are quick to pass the burden of this country’s economic problems to those at the bottom of the economic pyramid.
Frankly, there is only one word for this reality: Shameful. There is also only one term to describe the proposed budgets of both Republicans and Democrats: Class Warfare.
Is it any wonder that middle-income and low-income individuals all over the country are taking to the streets or occupying statehouses to preserve their rights at the state level?