This is a post from a new contributor to the site. If any regular readers are interested in contributing content, please feel to drop me a note. –Don
The frame of the budget debate should make it clear to almost anyone that neither side can be trusted to represent the interests or needs of the American people. By this I do not mean to argue that both parties are the same. They are not, and I always vote Democrat over Republican. But on this issue, which is quite literally a matter of life and death for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people, “better than the Republicans” is simply not good enough. The government is not going to come to an acceptable conclusion on its own, and the only way that I can see a positive outcome from this whole thing is if people, by the millions, make their voices heard and make it clear to both parties that neither “option” is remotely acceptable.
So what is the frame of the budget debate? It seems that it ranges from a very naked and crude form of kill-the-poor class war to a more disguised attack on poor and middle class people. On the right, the plan is to make massive cuts to all kinds of domestic programs on which millions of people depend, going as far as to abolish Medicare, underfund Medicaid, and rob people who have paid into Social Security all their lives of the benefits from that program. The New York Times said this of the Republican plan to turn Medicaid into a block grant to the states: “beginning in 2013, these grants would increase annually at the rate of inflation, with adjustments for population growth, a rate far below that of inflation for health care costs. As a result, states, which have said that they cannot afford to keep up with the program’s costs, are likely to scale back coverage” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/11/health/policy/11medicaid.html). Not surprisingly, this budget calls for no tax increases on the rich.
Obama’s budget, on the other hand, seeks to trim the budget by $1.1 billion by “balancing” cuts to programs with tax increases in what he calls a “shared sacrifice”. According to MSNBC, however, “two-thirds would come from spending cuts” while only “one-third of deficit savings would come from tax increases” on the wealthy (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41575850/ns/politics-white_house/t/obama-unveils-trillion-budget/). Obama’s budget attempts to reduce the deficit by line-item cuts (like his plan to reduce funding for LIHEAP, the program that helps low income families heat their homes in the winter, by 50%, and his plan to cut Community Development block grants and Community Service block grants) and by a five year freeze on all non-“defense” discretionary spending. “The National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association has estimated that cutting LIHEAP funding would eliminate assistance to 3.5 million low-income households” and The Economic Policy Institute has said of the five year freeze that, “while the freeze does contribute to deficit reduction, it all but ensures that the battle to create jobs and engage in future economic growth will be limited” (http://www.epi.org/analysis_and_opinion/entry/president_obamas_fy_2012_budget_an_analysis_of_the_budget_cuts). As if these cuts weren’t bad enough, Obama, while trying to negotiate with the Republicans, has gone so far as to put Medicare, Medicaid, and even Social Security on the table, offering cuts that he is willing to make in those programs in exchange for meager tax increases on the richest people and corporations.
From this we get an idea of what “shared sacrifice” means. It means the poor will do their part to balance the budget by giving up warm homes, and incredibly profitable energy companies will do their part by paying very slightly higher taxes. It means that working people will do their part to balance the budget by retiring years later than expected (if ever), and the wealthiest Americans will do their part by giving up some of the deductions they can take on their income taxes. It means that the poorest Americans will do their part to balance the budget by giving up their lives because they no longer have any access to healthcare, while corporate CEOs will do their part by giving up the tax break they get from their corporate jets. It means that a non-rich person’s life is worth about the same as a few thousand dollars in a rich person’s pocket. And that’s what’s called “shared sacrifice”.