What’s At Stake
July 25, 2011
As an Aug. 2 deadline nears for raising the nation's debt limit, some in Congress continue to press for steep cuts in programs for working families. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid remain in jeopardy. Funds for education, child care, nutrition, affordable housing, environmental protection and energy independence also are at stake. Poll after poll shows that the American people want Congress to focus on job creation and that they want deficit reduction to be done in a way which is fair. They do not want the budget to be balanced on the backs of those people who are already hurting. They want millionaires and billionaires to start paying their fair share in taxes, and they want the removal of massive loopholes which enable many large corporations to avoid taxes. They also want a significant reduction in military spending.
When Republican leaders talk about $3 trillion or $4 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years, with no new taxes on the wealthy and large corporations, please understand what they mean. While no specific proposals have been adopted, here are some of the ideas which have been discussed.
SOCIAL SECURITY: Revising the formula which determines cost-of-living adjustments. The average Social Security recipient who retires at age 65 would get $560 less a year at age 75. The same retiree would get $1,000 less a year at age 85 than under current law. Further, another provision which would require that Social Security always be solvent for 75 years would likely mean even larger cuts in benefits. All of this would take place despite the fact that Social Security has not contributed one penny to the deficit and has a $2.6 trillion surplus today. This new formula would also cut back on the pensions of veterans.
MEDICARE: Raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67 and/or cutting benefits by as much as $500 billion over 10 years. How are 66-year-old Americans with modest means going to afford health insurance with a private company - especially if they have medical problems? It's not going to happen. They are going to suffer. Some will unnecessarily die.
MEDICAID: At a time when 50 million Americans already have no health insurance, Republicans and some Democrats are proposing to cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid. That means that many men, women and children will lose the health insurance they have. According to a Harvard University study, some 45,000 Americans die each year because they don't get to a doctor when they should. How many more will die if Medicaid is slashed? How many children will be thrown off of the Children's Health Insurance Program?
EDUCATION: Slashing Pell grants. Childcare and college education already are unaffordable for millions of working families. Head Start has long waiting-lists. If Republicans and some Democrats get their way, Pell grants and other educational programs will be deeply slashed. Affordable childcare and a college education will no longer be possible for many families in our country.
ENVIRONMENT AND ENERGY: Forget about the government having the ability to protect the people from corporations who want to evade Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act regulations With massive cuts in the EPA, the resources will not be there. Forget about this country having the investment capability to transform out energy system to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. Forget about creating millions of jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and improving our public transportation system.
On and on it goes. At a time of growing hunger in America there will be massive cuts to nutrition programs. We have a crisis in homelessness, and there will be cuts to affordable housing. While we need more funds for research and development in disease prevention and other areas, fewer funds will be available.
The American people understand that the wealthiest people in this country are becoming wealthier while their effective tax rates in recent years have declined to the lowest level in modern history. They know that large multi-national corporations and Wall Street firms are earning billions in profits and, in some cases, paying nothing in federal income taxes. They know that military spending has nearly tripled since 1997 and that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drag on and on and on - at great expense to our taxpayers.
They also know that the middle class is disappearing, poverty is increasing and that this terrible recession is causing extraordinary suffering for working families, the elderly, the sick and the children.
But, unless we fight back vigorously, Congress and President Obama will give the American people exactly what they don't want. Despite the fact that Democrats control the White House and the Senate, it is right-wing Republicans who are calling the shots and setting the agenda. Unless we turn the tide now, they will get pretty much what they want.