More of the Same
The Obama Administration recently set forth a budget proposal that is probably the most progressive in nature of any that it had previously released. Coupled with the recent State of the Union Address that included significantly more concrete policy proposals to deal with economic inequality and improve the economy for all Americans, this budget has the potential to reverse years of deficit-cutting hysteria and attrition to those programs needed most by the least advantaged segments of our society. The time has come to stop fearing cuts to essential services and start moving in a more positive direction by revamping the tax code to more fairly spread the burden.
By proposing a significant, though not sufficient, raise in the minimum wage, increased funding for preschool education, improved job training and a boost in the amount and scope of the Earned Income Tax Credit, while steering clear of such cuts as a proposed cut to Social Security in the form of the chained-CPI, this budget and related legislative proposals could provide a much-needed step in the right direction. The result would be partially alleviating economic inequality and providing increased opportunity for advancement by members of the population who have been left behind by the trickle-down economic policies pursued by our government for so many decades. Coupled with real progressive changes to the tax code, closing unwarranted loopholes for the wealthy and ending much of the current corporate welfare, progress could be made for millions without out-of-control budget deficits as feared by the austerity hawks who have been holding down our economy for so long.
Unfortunately, GOP response to many of these proposals has been to double down on the proposals they have been making for years – cutting some safety net programs to enhance or just preserve others, while refusing to anything to taxes other than lower them for the wealthy and the most profitable corporations. Their concern over poverty seems limited to just explaining to those experiencing it why they need to continue to do so. They fail to see why the policies they have espoused for so long just have not resulted in the elimination of poverty, but in many cases have worsened it for so many despite the fact that so much has been spent on it.
The GOP and too many Democrats speak for and represent primarily those people for whom our current economic system has worked, for the most part. Despite the popularity of the progressive policies outlined in the State of the Union and proposed budget, what they have been doing has continued to get them elected and kept their campaign coffers full to overflowing. Tax breaks contributing to economic inequality and lack of regulation to prevent a repeat of the most recent financial collapse remain basically in force today. Redistribution of wealth upward seems invisible to our elected officials. Any attempts to stem the tide or reverse it at all are met with stiff resistance.
A change in this equation is needed – and soon. When so many good ideas reach Washington, only to be stymied by interminable gridlock and never implemented, our government is failing its people. The popularity of these programs and policy shifts needs to be demonstrated emphatically at every stage of the process. Obstructionism needs to be punished, not rewarded, at the ballot box. The failed policies of decades, and particularly the holding back of the economic recovery that has been done by the GOP in Congress the past three years and counting, needs to be brought to bear in the coming elections. By continuing to ignore the needs and desires of the vast majority of even their own voters, those defending the status quo which benefits a small minority prove themselves unworthy of their positions of elected office.
Another budgetary round of business as usual which brought us the austerity of the sequester with both real and proposed cuts to food stamps, education, and every other social program designed to help those disadvantaged by the policies that have created the economic and social inequality that we are faced with today is unacceptable. Why must the middle and lower working classes continue to suffer while the few at the top continue to be coddled by politicians and policies that put them on top to begin with? Political stagnation has meant the continuation of a status quo that increasingly benefits fewer people and artificially stunts opportunity for advancement for the rest. The time for this to end has long passed.
The progress made by the President through executive action after the last State of the Union Address has been significant, but totally insufficient as far as most Americans are concerned. Raising the minimum wage has been proposed for two years now, and seems to be dying on the vine yet again. Calls for other progressive legislation dealing with education and jobs have met similar fates. Republicans must be called out on the fact that their failure to agree on ANY action which will improve the economy is directly responsible for the slowness of the current recovery. This also contributes to the acceleration of the growth of the inequality. Budget cutting that takes money out of the pockets of unemployed people and food out of the stomachs of hungry children hurts more than just those directly targeted by the cuts. Ask Walmart what the food stamp cuts have done to its corporate bottom line.
Pressure must be continually applied on Congress to pass some of this stuff. Members must be made painfully aware that there will be consequences to their votes in Washington. That means there have to actually BE votes on these issues. Representatives and Senators need to not be let off the hook by procedural maneuvers by their leadership to make sure these bills never get to the floor or receive an up or down vote.Harry Reid went partway in alleviating Senate gridlock, but getting a few nominees confirmed hasn’t helped the long-term unemployed or those working for $7.25 an hour. Boehner eventually got the government running again and a vote to raise the debt ceiling in another cliffhanger, but still nothing else controversial gets through the House unless it’s dead on arrival in the Senate or announced by the White House as being veto bait.
Immigration and tax reform, often in bipartisan or GOP proposals, even seem destined to failure in this Congress. Maybe more than just the President needs term limits. As things stand now, he seems to be one of the few who actually wants to accomplish anything other than getting re-elected. It’s hard to even tell when Congress is in session anymore, so few votes are taken. Even MSNBC is reduced to basically taking about the 2016 presidential election almost non-stop, despite the fact that it’s over two years away and midterms are coming up this November.
The idea that Republicans can keep regurgitating the non-starter social program cuts and avoid making the revenue changes necessary to create a more equitable and fair society must be ended. Maybe what we need are some public peaceful demonstrations to wake them up. Maybe enough will be knocked out of office in November so we can make some real progress on social and economic policy next year. But I think it would be a real mistake to not take advantage of the popular pressure available now to get some of these things accomplished before then.
Further Suggested Readings: