Look behind the curtain
Republicans love to seize the mantle of fiscal austerity, and to stress the urgent need to reduce government debt. Let’s set aside the fact that, despite the rhetoric, they have no record of actually doing anything to curb deficits, especially during good times when a prudent steward stores up the wealth. Time and again we see it – large tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy and the ramping up of military spending. We see it again today. The claim is that fiscal sustainability can be restored without raising taxes, and by focusing principally on non-military discretionary spending (12 percent of the budget).
This is peanuts. It cannot possibly do the job. But that is the point. It might be peanuts, but it is incredibly harmful. Look at exactly what Republicans are targeting (often aided and abetted by a feckless administration) and you will see the true priorities. Forget the rhetoric. Look at what they are actually doing. The proof is in the pudding. Cuts to Head Start, which provides at-risk children up to age 5 with education, health, nutrition. Cuts Pell Grants, which help students afford college. Cuts Workforce Investment Act funding to provide job training, job search, and other employment assistance for low-income adults and workers whose jobs have been eliminated. Cut funds for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and for the Food Safety Inspection Service. Cuts benefits for the unemployed. Cuts funds to community health centers, which would leave 3 million people without basic health care. In other words, the poor must pay most. We all know that Catholic social teaching has a thing or two to say about that.
There’s more. Gutting the financing of the Securities and Exchange commission, so it cannot implement the Dodd-Frank Act (a weak attempt at financial regulation that is still despised by Wall Street). Defunding the implementation of health care reform. Blocking funding for EPA’s implementation of greenhouse gas regulations. Shrinking funding for the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a new agency designed to protect consumers from predatory lending, as well as all kinds of tricks to make in unable to operate, including prohibiting its top management from drawing salaries and preventing them from hiring any staff. In the overall budget, this is all peanuts. The effects are anything but. This represents a blatant war on the poor, and an attempt to defend large banks and polluters.
Let’s move from Washington to Wisconsin where the Republicans are trying to plug a budget shortfall by attacking the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers (let’s not beat around the bush here – when you ban bargaining for anything but base pay, and you restrict pay increases to inflation, you have lost your collective bargaining rights). This excuse, however, is just a charade. Why do I say this? Because there was no budget crisis in Wisconsin before the election of this Republican governor. This guy actually inherited a surplus. In what seemed like days, he squandered it on tax giveaways. He is now asking public sector workers to pick up the tab. I believe this is engineered. The attack on collective bargaining does not come out of nowhere. It’s been a core Republican principle for quite a long time. It’s all about reducing the bargaining power of workers, which would have the dual benefit of giving more power to business, and reducing campaign contributions to Democrats. This is what it is all about. This crisis saw yet another decline in unionization rates and Karl Rove was practically salivating – for exactly this political reason.
It is appalling that this is happening during the worst level of inequality since just before the Great Depression, an inequality that can be traced directly to the deregulation (particularly in the financial sector) that began in the 1980s combined the decades of deunionization. It is appalling that this is happening in the aftermath of the Great Recession, which caused 8 million to lose their jobs in the United States, and for public debt to increase almost 40 percentage points. Who caused this crisis? The financial sector. And who is being asked to pay? The poor, the unemployed, the uninsured, the public sector worker. There’s something very very wrong going on here.