2013: Another Year Wasted?
If I were the President Barack Obama who delivered the State of the Union Address last February, I would not be very happy with how the year is turning out so far. An ambitious and fairly progressive agenda put forth back then has seen very little implementation on the legislative front in a Congress that couldn’t even prevent a sixteen day government shutdown.The areas of gun safety, immigration reform, early childhood education, and the economy have seen no legislation successfully passed through both Houses, and little prospect exists at this point for anything this year. Yet another budget battle shaping up for later this year and early 2014. Congress seems unwilling to tackle more than one issue at a time, and that will probably suck most oif the oxygen out of the room till then.
Attempts to get the economy moving more strongly by investing in education and raising the minimum wage have struck a brick wall. Republicans seem unwilling to compromise at all on their demands to further damage the economy by cutting spending on the very programs essential to providing even the basic necessities for the most vulnerable members of our society. Despite the fact that the budget deficit has been cut dramatically over the past few years, they seem intent on further cutting it in a manner which will cut food aid to the hungry, health care for the poor sick and elderly, and earned benefits for programs such as Social Security which have not caused the deficits in the first place. All this to preserve an economic system and bloated national security state that increasing serves fewer and fewer of us adequately.
The sequester has already acted as a drag on growth within the economy, costing jobs for many more in the public sector and decreasing demand for goods and services overall. The inequality caused by decades of misnamed supply side trickle down economic and tax policies has not been addressed at all in Congress, despite urging from the White House. Even the inadequate request to raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00/hour has failed to pass, despite the fact that it would still be a sub-living wage and far below what it would be if it had even kept up with inflation since the 1960’s. One action which the Administration took, including home health workers under federal wage and labor laws who previously were not included, will help somewhat, but further action providing livable wage protections for Federal Contract workers has not been forthcoming.
Intransigence on the part of Senate Republics when it comes to approving Presidential appointments to head key government agencies, serve on regulatory boards and as judges, has abated somewhat this year, so some of those agencies are able to perform their legislatively intended functions more fully. This is a good thing, though progress has become agonizingly slow. Foot dragging on implementing the Affordable Care Act, particularly in states controlled by Republican Governors and legislatures, is also delaying the beneficial effects intended by that law. The recent government shutdown illustrates the lengths to which the GOP are willing to go in their attempts to sabotage both the health care of all American citizens and the economy as a whole. Trying to demand defunding of the health care reform law and repealing it have taken up more Congressional effort and cost taxpayers more wasted money and time than just about anything else they have done all year.
The budget battle shaping up with this new conference committee, composed of House and Senate members of both parties, sounds an awful lot like the Super Committee that left us with inconclusive results, other than making sure that the Sequester cuts that were supposed to be so terrible that nobody would allow them to go into effect, did, in fact, go into effect. This means that Democrats have, in fact, agreed to watch the cuts to many programs they sought to protect negatively affect those people who need them the most. The only minor adjustment so far has been a high-profile lessening of sequester spending cuts related to air traffic safety that primarily affected relatively few people. All the Republicans seem concerned about are Defense cuts.
Republicans accuse the Democrats of refusing to compromise, although they are starting from a budget mostly churned out by the House Republicans. They want to pass a budget that cuts into the social safety net even further than the sequester has, and refuse to even talk about increasing tax revenues by raising rates on the wealthy or removing tax breaks that primarily benefit those at the top of the income scale. Forget about cutting costly corporate subsidies or taking action to curtail corporate tax-avoidance schemes. They already shut down the government for sixteen days and came perilously close to a default on the national debt in order to try to force further concessions. What this committee will accomplish that was unable to be achieved for the past two years remains to be seen, but polls show that large majorities of the American people are not amused by the Congressional theater they’ve been subjected to of late. Hopefully, enough people will remember these events a year from now when it comes time to elect a new cast of characters to the hallowed halls of Capitol Hill.
As has been said by the President, as well as most other sentient beings in this country, we need to be served by a government that is responsive to our needs. Failing to adequately perform even the bare minimum of their Constitutionally assigned duties has worn thin for most of us. There are still two months left in 2013 in which some of the goals set forth for the year in the February Address may at least be partially realized. The rest of Congress can actually work on other legislation while the Committee pretends to come to an amicable agreement on the budget. Perhaps some action on immigration reform, gun safety or the minimum wage could be passed.
Blue may be my favorite color, but not for my face, so I won’t be holding my breath about anything of substance coming from this Congress. I don’t want a grand bargain that takes food from hungry mouths, access to good education from our youth, sustenance from our elderly or anything else that exacerbates the unacceptable degree of economic inequality and social injustice that exists here now. It is time for the needs of the people to take their proper place above the never satiable greed of the wealthy few and the demands of an uncaring profit-centered economic system.
There are some elected officials in Washington looking out for our interests. Their number needs to be increased dramatically and the influence of those currently privileged by wealth and/or corporate power curtailed just as dramatically before this morass that Washington, DC has become can be sorted out. Increasing taxes on the wealthy and decreasing corporate welfare, along with cutting so-called “defense” and “national security” spending to what is actually required to defend the nation, would go just as far in alleviating the deficit as the GOP’s desired cuts to social programs would, and the world as well as the United States of America would become a better place to live in as a result.
Selected Further Readings: