mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

Republican Policies Don’t Care About Poor People

I’m not saying that congressional Republicans don’t care about poor people. But they really care about rich people. So far, the policy agenda they’ve pushed has been a mixture of very expensive tax cuts for the very wealthy and very deep cuts to a lot of programs that focus on the very poor. It’s . . . curious.

Think back to the tax deal. The GOP’s demands were: 1) the extension of the Bush tax cuts for high-earners; and 2) a massive cut in the estate tax. Put together, the two items will increase the deficit by close to a trillion dollars over 10 years. If the GOP had wanted, they could’ve used that money for more tax cuts for the poor, or even the middle class. The Obama administration would’ve happily signed onto that compromise. But Republicans did not want that. If we were going to increase the deficit, we were going to do it on behalf of the wealthy.

Now they’ve moved onto deficit reduction, or at least spending cuts, and their priorities in the 2011 budget are telling. Their cuts are coming from non-defense discretionary spending. That’s a category of spending, as you can see here, that tends to focus on services to the poor, the jobless and children. Among other cuts, they’ve proposed slicing more than $1 billion off Head Start, $1.1 billion off the Public Housing Capital Fund, $752 million from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, and $5.7 billion from Pell Grants. I could, of course, go on. Democrats have tried to widen the cuts out to other categories so their impact falls less heavily on the disadvantaged, but so far, Republicans have refused. If we’re going to cut spending, we’re going to do it on the backs of the poor.

As for the 2012 budget, we know Social Security is being left alone, and we know Medicaid — which is to say, health care for poor people — is taking a $1 trillion cut. If we’re going to reform entitlements, it seems, we’re going to start with the one that serves the poor.

It’s very difficult to argue that these programs are the most wasteful in the federal government. The Pentagon is burning through a lot more cash than Head Start. Medicare spends much more for health services than Medicaid. The mortgage-interest tax deduction is regressive, as is the deduction for employer-based health care, but as of yet, Republicans haven’t proposed reforming either. Again, I’m not saying Republicans don’t care about poor people. But so far, their policy proposals don’t. And you can’t chalk it up to an appetite for sacrifice, because for all that the GOP is asking from the poor, they’ve fought hard to protect the rich from having to make any sacrifices. So far, it’s been program cuts for the poor and tax cuts for the rich. It’s a disappointing set of priorities.

By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, April 1, 2011

April 2, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Corporations, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Ideologues, Medicaid, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Social Security, Voters, Women | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congressional Budget Proposals And Why We’re Fasting

I stopped eating on Monday and joined around 4,000 other people in a fast to call attention to Congressional budget proposals that would make huge cuts in programs for the poor and hungry.

By doing so, I surprised myself; after all, I eat for a living. But the decision was easy after I spoke last week with David Beckmann, a reverend who is this year’s World Food Prize laureate. Our conversation turned, as so many about food do these days, to the poor.

Who are — once again — under attack, this time in the House budget bill, H.R. 1. The budget proposes cuts in the WIC program (which supports women, infants and children), in international food and health aid (18 million people would be immediately cut off from a much-needed food stream, and 4 million would lose access to malaria medicine) and in programs that aid farmers in underdeveloped countries. Food stamps are also being attacked, in the twisted “Welfare Reform 2011” bill. (There are other egregious maneuvers in H.R. 1, but I’m sticking to those related to food.)

These supposedly deficit-reducing cuts — they’d barely make a dent — will quite literally cause more people to starve to death, go to bed hungry or live more miserably than are doing so now. And: The bill would increase defense spending.

Beckmann, who is president of Bread for the World, made me want to join in just by talking about his commitment. For me, the fast is a way to demonstrate my interest in this fight, as well as a way to remind myself and others that there are bigger things in life than dinner. (Shocking, I know.) I expect I’ll learn something about patience and fortitude while I’m at it. Thirty-six hours into the fast, my senses are heightened and everything feels a bit strange. Odors from the cafeteria a floor away drift down to my desk. In the elevator, I can smell a muffin; on the street, I can smell everything — good and bad. But as hungry as I may get, we know I’ll eat well soon. (Please check my blog for a progress report.)

Many poor people don’t have that option, and Beckmann and his co-organizers are calling for God to create a “circle of protection” around them. Some are fasting for a day, many for longer. (I’m fasting until Friday, and Beckmann until Monday. And, no, it’s not too late to join us.)

When I reminded Beckmann that poor people’s hunger was hardly a new phenomenon, and that God hasn’t made a confirmed appearance recently — at least that I know of — he suggested I read Isaiah 58, in which God says that if we were more generous while we fasted he’d treat us better. Maybe. But a billion people are just as hungry, human, and as deserving now as the Israelites were when they were fleeing Egypt, and I don’t see any manna.

This isn’t about skepticism, however; it’s about ironies and outrages. In 2010, corporate profits grew at their fastest rate since 1950, and we set records in the number of Americans on food stamps. The richest 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all American households combined, the effective tax rate on the nation’s richest people has fallen by about half in the last 20 years, and General Electric paid zero dollars in U.S. taxes on profits of more than $14 billion. Meanwhile, roughly 45 million Americans spend a third of their posttax income on food — and still run out monthly — and one in four kids goes to bed hungry at least some of the time.

It’s those people whom Beckmann and his allies (more than 30 organizations are on board) are trying to protect. The coalition may be a bit too quick to support deficit reduction, essentially saying, “We understand the need for fiscal responsibility, but we don’t want to sacrifice the powerless, nearly voiceless poor in its name. As Beckmann knows, however, deficit reduction isn’t as important as keeping people from starving: “We shouldn’t be reducing our meager efforts for poor people in order to reduce the deficit,” he told me by phone. “They didn’t get us into this, and starving them isn’t going to get us out of it.”

This is a moral issue; the budget is a moral document. We can take care of the deficit and rebuild our infrastructure and strengthen our safety net by reducing military spending and eliminating corporate subsidies and tax loopholes for the rich. Or we can sink further into debt and amoral individualism by demonizing and starving the poor. Which side are you on?

If faith increases your motivation, that’s great, but I doubt God will intervene here. Instead, we need to gather and insist that our collective resources be used for our collective welfare, not for the wealthiest thousand or even million Americans but for a vast majority of us in the United States and, indeed, for citizens of the world who have difficulty making ends meet. Or feeding their kids.

Though Beckmann is too kind to say it, he and many other religious leaders believe that true worship can’t take place without joining this struggle: “You can’t have real religion,” he told me, “unless you work for justice for hungry and poor people.”

I don’t think you can have much humanity, either.

By: Mark Bittman, The New York Times Opinion Page, March 29, 2011

March 31, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Corporations, Deficits, Economy, Federal Budget, Human Rights, Income Gap, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Games People Play: How Boehner Is Playing The Democrats

Richard Nixon espoused what he called “the madman theory.” It’s a negotiating approach that induces the other side to believe you are capable of dangerously irrational actions and leads it to back down to avoid the wreckage your rage might let loose.

House Republicans are pursuing their own madman theory in budget negotiations, with a clever twist: Speaker John Boehner is casting himself as the reasonable man fully prepared to reach a deal to avoid a government shutdown. But he also has to satisfy a band of “wild-eyed bomb-throwing freshmen,” as he characterized new House members in a Wall Street Journal interview last week by way of comparing them fondly to his younger self.

Thus are negotiators for President Obama and Senate Democrats forced to deal not only with Republican leaders in the room but also with a menacing specter outside its confines. As “responsible” public officials, Democrats are asked to make additional concessions just to keep the bomb-throwers at bay.

This is the perverse genius of what the House Republicans are up to: Nobody really thinks that anything like their $57 billion in remaining proposed budget cuts can pass. It’s unlikely that all of their own members are confident about all of the cuts they have voted for. But by taking such a large collection of programs hostage, the GOP can be quite certain to win many more fights than it would if each reduction were considered separately.

Begin with the outrageous $1.1 billion, 15 percent cut from Head Start, a program that offers preschool education to roughly 965,000 poor children. According to the Center for Law and Social Policy, this would knock 218,000 kids out of Head Start and force 16,000 classrooms to close.

That is an excellent way to lose the future, as Obama ought to be saying. What could be a better use of public money than helping our poorest children early in life so they might achieve more in school, and later?

And for those who say that Head Start is not as good as it should be, the administration announced plans in September to require lower-performing Head Start programs to compete against other entities for continued funding. Isn’t this the sort of competition conservatives say they’re for?

Given what science has shown about the importance of a child’s first years, we need better and broader early childhood programs. Slashing them can only cause harm – to parents, to children and to the country.

Then there are the cuts at the other end of the education continuum. The House budget would reduce the maximum Pell Grant, which helps needy kids go to college, by $845, from $5,550 available now. According to Mark Kantrowitz, who publishes the FinAid Web site that gives financial-aid advice, 1.7 million low-income students would lose eligibility for Pell Grants, almost a fifth of current recipients. Is that what Americans voted for last November?

But here is where the Republicans’ strategy works so brilliantly. Let’s assume that neither the administration nor Senate Democrats – even the most timid among them – can allow the Head Start or Pell Grant cuts to go through. That still leaves a lot of other truly worthy programs to be defended. By heaping cut upon cut, Republicans get advocates of each particular cause fighting among themselves.

And with so many reductions on the table, voters who would actually oppose most of them if they knew the details don’t get to hear much about any individual item because the media concentrate almost entirely on the partisan drama of the shutdown fight, not the particulars.

You can also imagine the argument from those Democrats petrified of their own shadows. “Well,” say the scaredy-cats, “we have to save Pell Grants and Head Start, so why don’t we give House Republicans what they want on the National Endowment for the Arts – or their cuts in foreign aid, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, medical research, the Women Infants and Children program, meals-on-wheels or mine safety inspections? I mean, we have to give them something, or those crazies will shut down the government, and we might get blamed.”

Boehner can just sit back and smile benignly as Democrats battle over which concessions they should give him. When the negotiating gets tough, he can sadly warn that his freshmen need more because he can’t guarantee what they’ll do. The perpetually tanned one is a shrewd dude. Democrats who underestimate him will be playing into his hands.

By: E. J. Dionne, Op-Ed Columnist, The Washington Post, March 7, 2011

March 6, 2011 Posted by | Deficits, Economy, Federal Budget | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: