Try Waging War on Poverty Instead of the Poor
As Congress stumbles into yet another budget/debt limit conference committee round of discussions, it appears that the losers along the way remain those at the bottom of the economic heap. On November 1st, all those receiving food stamps took a cut, with the specter of further cuts coming with the next round of budget talks. Seniors and disabled people face another anemic cost of living adjustment with further cuts being called for by the GOP in Social Security and Medicare. Meanwhile, the government shutdown didn’t cost Wall Street and the wealthy much of anything. The question arises as to why, despite the election results of a year ago and various polls showing popular disdain for GOP tactics in previous budget talks and the government shutdown, Democrats and Progressives always appear to be on the defensive in these discussions?
Talk constantly turns to some imaginary need to cut the programs that save so many from poverty and destitution because they will otherwise bankrupt the nation in the near future. No matter how many times these analyses are debunked by however many economist and budget experts examine them, the GOP always returns to its stock stump speech of imminent fiscal and economic collapse if we don’t immediately take drastic austerity measures by cutting funding to prop up the lazy poor and their unfortunate dependents. Education, food, health care, housing, child care, etc. is all plentiful. You just need to get off your duff and pull yourself up by your bootstraps (whether you have enough to afford boots or not), get a job and pay for them yourself. Opportunity is there for everyone to succeed. If you don’t, it’s your own fault.
Even the IMF has come to dismiss these arguments and called for increasing taxes on the rich to help alleviate budget pressures and improve the lives of others. But even some among the Democrats allow themselves to join those who claim we are simply spending too much and must reduce the out-of-control deficit. This despite the fact that the budget has been dropping rapidly since the stimulus has ended and the unbudgeted wars either ended or began winding down. The inability of even the majority of Democrats to make vocal and public calls for increasing taxes on those able to pay more painlessly, or at least to stop some of the enormous tax breaks to the wealthy and extremely profitable corporations becomes nauseating. The fact that some are joining in GOP efforts to water down already weak financial reforms does not bode for our future either.
In order to improve the economy and boost the economic status of the 99% of Americans currently drastically underrepresented in our government, programs such as food stamps, all levels of education, health care, child care, housing assistance and unemployment insurance need to be expanded during economic downturns, not cut further. The only people benefitting from these cuts are the wealthy and the corporations which maintain profitability and the ability to hold onto and expand their fortunes by withdrawing them from our economy and storing them abroad. Again, taking away tax avoidance strategies for the wealthy and their corporations has no place in the GOP agenda.
Cutting food stamps and other subsidies from those who need them not only causes more people – including seniors, children, the disabled and military veterans – to go hungry, it also affects businesses that do substantial trade in them. Walmart and grocery stores come to mind, but the number of establishments is quite large. Same goes for such things as health care and housing assistance – who profits from having more people with unattended health needs and who are homeless? Cutting funding for programs that help working people support their families and giving the money to the wealthy takes much of it out of the economy, reducing demand that is essential for overall economic improvement. People don’t hoard food stamps in Swiss bank accounts.
Real change in what we are spending money on and where we get it from needs to be made in Washington – in the exact opposite direction of that flaunted by the right wing deficit hawks and even the alleged moderate folks from the Simpson-Bowles Commission. Even some of the supposed liberal commentators on MSNBC have fallen for this garbage. There is plenty of money, wealth and resources (human and material) in this country for all to live at a higher standard than many are currently able to achieve under our highly inequitable system. There is no reason why this country needs to exhibit the degree of social and economic inequality that has arisen here in recent decades, unless our values of equality and opportunity have become just talk covering up for maintaining the security of undeserved privilege for the few at the expense of the many.
Our military-industrial complex is way more bloated than it needs to be to defend us from foreign invasion and contributes far less to our economy and the wellbeing of our citizens than other industry might if we placed similar resources in pursuit of more peaceful ends. Our government often seems more preoccupied with destroying things than in building them – both in human and material terms. In my view, a society that is already as dysfunctional as ours in terms of the wellbeing of so many of its participants cannot afford to make things worse for even more of them than benefit by the changes thus wrought.The takers are not the poor and underprivileged, but those who make their wealth by exploiting them.
It is extremely unfortunate that many (if not most) of the elected officials who act as proponents of this inequality and subservience to the interests of the wealthy and economically powerful were elected to represent many of the poorest regions of our country – places most in need of some of the services provided by government that they seek to decrease or cease to provide entirely. That people are convinced to vote contrary to their own self-interest is a shame. That others refuse to represent the interests of those who are their constituents is shameful. The time has come for our government to solve these fiscal issues rather than continuing to put them off. We need solutions that do more than just maintain the status quo for a few months at a time while gradually eroding the economy at the same time. We also need our government to serve all the people, not just the few with wealth and power. Stop punishing those who who you never wanted to succeed in the first place and allow them to reach their full potential without the obstacles your oligarchic economy has placed in their path.
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