Monday, April 25, 2011

Acknowledging Poverty and Progressive Choices

I was just sitting here thinking about the national budget and its attendant “crisis” and the proposed budget cuts that so far range from the right-wing’s cruel and unthinkable, to the President’s weak and miserable. I was feeling very despondent – then I read Paul Krugman’s column in today’s New York Times, which offered a little cheer and encouragement.

That’s because it discusses the “People’s Budget” from the Congressional Progressive Caucus. I didn’t know there was a Congressional Progressive Caucus; I didn’t know there were enough Congressional progressives to constitute a caucus. I certainly didn’t know they had created a budget that, as the Caucus details on its Web site, will do the smart, sane thing:

“The CPC proposal:

• Eliminates the deficits and creates a surplus by 2021
• Puts America back to work with a “Make it in America” jobs program
• Protects the social safety net
• Ends the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq
• Is FAIR (Fixing America’s Inequality Responsibly)

What the proposal accomplishes:

• Primary budget balance by 2014.
• Budget surplus by 2021.
• Reduces public debt as a share of GDP to 64.1% by 2021, down 16.5 percentage points from a baseline fully adjusted for both the doc fix and the AMT patch.
• Reduces deficits by $5.6 trillion over 2012-21, relative to this adjusted baseline.
• Outlays equal to 22.2% of GDP and revenue equal 22.3% of GDP by 2021.”

If that’s a bit too technical for you to digest, Krugman sums it up in layman’s terms very nicely:

“[The CPC Plan]… unlike the Ryan plan, which was just right-wing orthodoxy with an added dose of magical thinking — is genuinely courageous because it calls for shared sacrifice. True, it increases revenue partly by imposing substantially higher taxes on the wealthy, which is popular everywhere except inside the Beltway. But it also calls for a rise in the Social Security cap, significantly raising taxes on around 6 percent of workers. And, by rescinding many of the Bush tax cuts, not just those affecting top incomes, it would modestly raise taxes even on middle-income families. All of this, combined with spending cuts mostly focused on defense, is projected to yield a balanced budget by 2021. And the proposal achieves this without dismantling the legacy of the New Deal, which gave us Social Security, and the Great Society, which gave us Medicare and Medicaid.”

As someone who used to be middle-class and is now poor (it’s taken me quite a while to admit that to myself, yet alone say it in a public forum), I want to see this plan adopted – and I’m going to contact President Obama and my Senators and Congressman and tell them so.

I’m also going to tell them that they must at least try to remind the Republicans and Conservatives that people on Welfare, Social Security Disability and Medicaid are not deadbeats unwilling to work, and those on Social Security Retirement and Medicare are not people who were just too lazy and lacking in foresight to save enough money to take care of themselves in later life, no matter what.

Apparently, there are still millions of Americans who genuinely believe that the “social safety net has become a hammock,” as John Boehner recently/famously said. Some people really think that the money garnered from entitlements is excessive and amounts to a gravy train rolling down Easy Street. Recent polls showed that a majority of Americans thought the government spends 10% to 50% of GDP on foreign aid (which they don’t like and think should be cut way back), when actually, less than 1% is spent on foreign aid. Similarly, millions of people think beneficiaries of entitlements receive large sums of money and live high on the proverbial hog. Without going into a lot of personal, embarrassing detail, just let me say this is incredibly untrue.

Everyone (the media, the politicians, those on the right…) has been telling us that to solve our national financial problems, everybody has to take a hit. But that’s neither true nor fair. There really are people who cannot – or can no longer – support themselves through work. Most of the people on Welfare, for example, are unskilled, poorly educated, white single mothers with children who are school age or younger. They should have to “take a hit”? Retirees should take a hit? The disabled should take a hit? Other social services (including family planning), education, the environment, energy initiatives, Veterans' benefits, scientific research, infrastructure repair, the creation of high-speed rail service, the arts and public broadcasting – all these should take a hit? What will it say about us – as a government and as a people – if we do this? And why would our Democratic President allow a right-wing revolution to take hold on his watch?

Please show your support for the budget proposed by the Progressive Congressional Caucus. It’s the only light at the end of the dark budget tunnel that makes sense.

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