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Happy Holidays

December 24, 2013

The latest budget deal agreed to by Congress and the President is a far stretch from wishing us all happy holidays. While it does mean that we will not be subjected to another costly government shutdown for another two years, most of the big issues preventing our economy from achieving a strong recovery have yet to be addressed, as the deficit austerity hawks remain largely dominant. Just ask the millions of people who had their food stamps cut in  November or the 1.3 million facing the end of their emergency unemployment insurance payments three days after Christmas.

Once again, a budget gets passed, including cuts to some of the most vulnerable among us, with few if any effects on the powers that be. Even new cuts to the military budget affect mainly the hard-earned pension benefits of retired veterans. While the drag on the economy of the remaining sequester cuts may not be as great as it would have been if the agreement had not been reached, no steps were taken to improve the economy or decrease the level of economic inequality that has plagued our society for decades. The cuts made to those at the bottom of the economic ladder are very real and cause considerable suffering to those affected. The money could have just as easily come from programs which provide welfare for the already wealthy or to highly profitable corporations, with much less harm resulting to either people or the economy.

That so much is left unresolved by this agreement is no coincidence. Already, there has been talk amongst the House GOP as to what concessions will be demanded in a couple of months when the debt ceiling again needs to be increased. There has been no indication that the GOP will even discuss the possibility of ending some of the tax loopholes and avoidance strategies which have enabled the wealthy and corporations to pay less than their fair share of the tax burden or enable important expenditures to be made to repair and rebuild the national infrastructure. Despite the fact that austerity policies have caused the economy to stagnate, they insist on maintaining the tax advantages for their benefactors and reducing the deficit only by means of cutting assistance to the needy.

The President and some Democrats in Congress have made the right statements about increasing wages and reforming the tax code to eliminate some of the more glaring inequities contained in our taxing and spending policies. We’ve been waiting for such actions for years. Some bills have even been proposed in Congress to address these needs, but all have died with little fanfare, often without even so much as an up or down vote. The only reason there may be any chance at all of some concrete action is the presence of renewed activism, particularly among low paid workers in the fast food and retail sectors. The arguments against taking progressive action to help reverse the current course of our economic predicament are becoming more tired as they become less convincing. The continued failure of trickle down economic policies to resolve the problems they were supposed to fix, but have instead resulted in even worse conditions for most of us, becomes more evident the longer they continue unabated..

All the oxygen in the room not taken up by reaching this latest interim budget agreement has been taken up in discussion of the problematic implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the now infamous faulty website. That gave the media folks plenty of stuff to obsess about when there was little else being discussed openly in Congress leading up to the votes on the budget agreement. The delay tactics were conveniently perfectly timed to coincide with when the House GOP scheduled its holiday recess to start. No time to do more before we need to go home and celebrate with our families.

There is no coincidence that the emergency unemployment insurance expiration comes when it does, any more than there was when the shutdown occurred. The people left in the lurch are over a million people who have been unemployed on a long-term basis. The vast majority would prefer to be working, as their paychecks would most likely be far higher than their unemployment compensation checks were. The fact that this Congress has gone out of its way to do NOTHING to improve the economy that leaves them jobless for so long is not forgotten by many. Despite efforts by the administration and the Democrats to introduce jobs legislation, the GOP have refused to either allow them to pass or propose alternatives that they would prefer. Forcing these people to wait through a very trying time without the economic safety net provided by their unemployment benefits should be unconscionable to a government FOR the people. If such a situation affected their primary campaign donors, you could bet Congress would not leave the matter unsettled so they could enjoy their holidays.

Food stamps also stand to lose even more, if the Congressional GOP have their way. The Farm Bill has still not been passed. House GOP are seeking to even further gut food assistance. Perhaps that will be part of their price to pass another debt ceiling increase. When the fiscal brinksmanship will end in Congress is still up in the air. It seems that until it is resolved to a greater extent than this budget deal has afforded, the bigger policy choices that need to be made to improve the economy, provide more and better job opportunities and decrease the level of overall economic inequality will remain elusive. The GOP want this. It allows their benefactors to continue on the path of consolidating their financial gains and advantages, while leaving most of the rest of us treading water or worse. They count on this gridlock and voter suppression legislation to maintain their control of the House until they can sweep to victory in the 2016 Presidential election.

A rising tide lifts all boats, unless someone has cut holes in the hulls of some of them. We need to plug those holes for the vast majority of us to gain from the advancements in our economy which have been benefitting so few of us of late. The issues being raised by progressives need to be addressed effectively and soon. The status quo does not deserve to be preserved when it hurts more of us than it helps. Apparently, this must be demonstrated more vehemently to the Congressional GOP than it has been, as they act as if majority opposition as expressed to this point doesn’t constitute an urgent need to change their course.

If the obstruction and refusal to take action to alleviate the frustrations and suffering of those of us at the bottom of a very lopsided economy do not end soon, a more powerful message must be sent to Washington, either in the elections next November or before. A highly educated and motivated work force will not continue to work for less than subsistence wages making sure that their equals in all other respects live in comfort and luxury. Nor will they continue to defend to the death the rights of some to have elevators for their cars while others starve homeless in the streets. Pass a living minimum wage. Eliminate tax advantages and subsidies for the wealthy and their corporations. Provide jobs for all and stop blaming the victims of your economic policies for not doing work that needs to be done but you are unwilling to pay for. An example would be repairing and building infrastructure that everyone agrees needs improvement and has been neglected for far too long.

Eliminate the need for most of the hodgepodge of safety net programs, not the fair distribution of economic resources to ensure that all are provided what they need to survive and thrive in the world today. Eliminating the deficit by shifting money away from the needy and into the arms of those whose only need of it is to keep it from others is not what this society is supposed to be all about. At least not according to the models of justice, democracy and morality I grew up under in this country back in the dark ages of the 20th Century. I’d prefer to live in a world where a dream existed that everyone could reasonably aspire to, not just a select few. A New Deal world is far preferable to the era which brought us the Great Depression. Policies given us by the conservatives in the GOP and acquiesced to by far too many Democrats for way too long makes this country increasingly resemble the latter far more than the former.

Suggested Further Readings:

The Meaning of Decent Society

Latest Budget Again Favors the Right Wing, As Pentagon Benefits While People Suffer

How to Beat GOP on Inequality: Key Reforms that Don’t Involve Congress

The Right Thing

Charts: The Worst Long-Term Unemployment Crisis Since the Depression

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One Comment
  1. Another clear, cogent update. Thanks. My main suggestion is to talk about the need for public-service jobs as well as infrastructure work (which is more costly).


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