On April 15, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Rep. Paul Ryan’s version of the 2012 federal budget. Called the “Path to Prosperity,” it embodies the biggest shift of wealth from one class to another in U.S. history. The Ryan plan would decimate Medicare, gut Medicaid and slash two million jobs. At the same time, it cuts the top income tax rates from 35 percent to 25 percent, makes the Bush tax cuts permanent and increases military spending by 15 percent.
Egged on by the Tea Party phenomenon, Congress wants to slash $4.2 trillion from subsistence programs such as food stamps, then turn around and give handouts to the wealthy in the form of tax breaks and corporate subsidies. The price tag of this welfare for the rich comes to $4.1 trillion, just about the same amount as the proposed cuts. So the Ryan plan clearly has nothing to do with “reducing the deficit.”
While working people and poor families try to save their homes or pay the rent and handle skyrocketing gas and food prices, corporations and banks haul in record profits and pay the lowest tax rate in 50 years. In 1961 nearly a third of federal tax revenue was from big business. Last year it was only nine percent. Using the depression caused by Wall Street as an excuse, U.S. capitalists and their backers in Congress are poised to cut even more taxes for the rich and take it out of the hides of the working class.
Shredding 75 years of reform. House Republicans are proposing cuts that would radically alter the social landscape and erode the hard-won gains of working people. This is not just “belt tightening,” “living within our means” or “shared sacrifice.” The attacks on unions, especially public employees, are all part of a right-wing effort to push workers back into sweatshops to provide cheap labor. By demolishing the safety net — things like Medicaid, Pell grants for college, public workers’ pensions, health insurance, housing assistance and programs for the elderly — the CEO’s are literally stealing from the poor to give to the rich!
Workers of all ages and in private and public sectors are fighting back. Union busting attempts by the governors of Wisconsin and Ohio have sparked massive demonstrations of public workers and their allies. And during the congressional recess last April, Republican representatives were greeted at home by Town Halls packed with irate workers and elders, mostly women, shouting out their disapproval of the Ryan plan.
Democrats jump on the deficit bandwagon. Many workers expected the opposition party to be outraged at this all-out offensive on working and poor people. Instead, Democrats have joined the right-wingers in clamoring for deficit reduction.
Prior to the current budget battle, Obama set up a Deficit Reduction Commission (called the Cat Food Commission because it would reduce seniors to eating cat food) to advise him on ways to reduce the deficit. The Commission’s proposal called for raising the age for Social Security to 69 and privatizing Medicare.
In order to win the support of his base, Obama conveniently positioned himself somewhat to the left of his advisors and began electioneering in nationally televised speeches vowing to oppose any cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
Behind the scenes, however, the White House had already frozen federal employees’ wages until 2015 and plans to lay off 10 percent of the federal workforce. Obama’s 2012 budget proposal includes eliminating 200,000 children from Head Start, ending LIHEAP funding to help heat 3.5 million homes, and cutting way back on the food stamp program.
Obama has been called the Compromiser-in-Chief by some to characterize how he seems eager to make concessions before the debate even begins. His bipartisan “Gang of Six” — three Republicans and three Democrats — will meet in secret and propose more compromises, all the while pushing the debate to the political right, and the left wing perspective off the cliff.
The president and his party must have forgotten about sky-high unemployment and the price of gas that has topped $4 a gallon — issues which most Americans put at the top of their worry list. As far as reducing the federal deficit, recent polls indicate that more than two-thirds of the public favors taxing the rich in order to balance the budget.
Building the fight for a humane budget. Isn’t it about time for a declaration of class war against our politicians? This brutish budget plan can be defeated if workers join with retirees and the unemployed to stand up against it.
The demand should be to tax profits, not wages and retirement benefits. While huge corporations like Exxon, General Electric, Boeing and Goldman Sachs rake in obscene profits, they pay no taxes and get IRS refunds!
Expand Social Security. It’s not broke. The only problem with Social Security is the $2.5 trillion the federal government has borrowed from the program to fund wars and non-social service projects. Instead of exhorting the public to “sacrifice,” the ruling class should pay back what it has robbed from working-class retirement funds!
The Congressional Black Caucus, the Progressive Caucus and others have raised alternative budget proposals, which call for ending wars and cutting defense spending. Yes! But why not simply dismantle the Pentagon? That would instantly make a rational budget possible. Everyone could have free education and job training. And while we’re at it, a guaranteed annual income.
Labor unions have a key role to play in this war. They can ban their union money from going to any of the Democrat or Republican candidates. The rank and file can agitate for hooking up with other unions and community groups to organize strikes, protests and uprisings everywhere!
This is what it’s going to take to get sanity and humanity into the national budget. And to stop the politicos’ barnstorming campaign to reduce their deficit at our expense.
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