A $2.5 trillion deficit-reduction deal brokered by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, and President Barack Obama is grotesquely unfair. It also is bad economic policy. In the midst of a terrible recession, it will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.
At a time when the wealthiest people in this country are doing extremely well, and when their effective tax rate is the lowest in decades, the rich won’t contribute one penny more for deficit reduction. When corporate profits are soaring and many giant corporations avoid federal income taxes because of obscene loopholes in the tax code, corporate America will not be asked to contribute one penny more for deficit reduction. On the other hand, working families, children, the sick and the elderly -- many of whom are already suffering because of the recession -- will shoulder the entire burden.
The corporate media -- which, by and large, covered this debate as if it were a baseball game with political "winners and losers" -- mostly glossed over the real-life implications of $917 billion in cuts over the next 10 years. Nobody can predict exactly what programs will fall under the knife or say how much they will be cut. Those decisions will be made over the coming months and years by the appropriations committees. But here’s what’s at stake:
* At a time when there are long waiting lists for affordable childcare and Head Start, it is likely that these programs will be cut significantly.
* At a time when the United States is falling further and further behind other countries in the quality of our education, it is likely that tens of thousands of teachers and school personnel will be laid off.
* At a time when working families are finding it harder to send their kids to college, it is likely that there will be cuts in federal student aid programs.
* At a time when hunger among seniors and children is rising, it is likely that there will be cuts in various nutrition programs.
* At a time when 50 million Americans have no health insurance and many of them are utilizing community health centers for their medical needs, it is likely that there will be cuts in primary healthcare.
* At a time when states, cities and towns already laid off over 500,000 public service employees, it is likely that there will be even more police and firefighter layoffs and large reductions in federal support for roads, bridges, water quality, sewage and public transportation.
That’s just for starters. There likely will be cuts in home heating assistance, affordable housing, support for family-based agriculture, and research in finding cures for cancer and other diseases. There likely will be major staffing reductions in agencies charged with protecting the physical health and economic well-being of our people. It is quite likely that the EPA, which enforces clean water and clean air rules, will be cut. The Securities and Exchange Commission, which regulates Wall Street, will be undermined. It is also very possible that the Social Security Administration, which assures that seniors and the disabled receive the benefits to which they are entitled in a timely manner, will also be cut.
That is just the first round of $900 billion in cuts.
In the second phase of the $2.5 trillion package, sweeping new powers are given to a 12-member, evenly-divided House and Senate super committee. The panel’s mandate is to look at every federal government program and come up with $1.5 trillion more in savings. With Republicans and an increasing number of Democrats calling for major cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, all of those programs will be in jeopardy.
If the committee is unable to agree, cuts will happen anyway. A sequestration process would require $500 billion in cuts to defense spending and $500 billion more in across-the-board cuts to domestic discretionary spending. In that scenario, Social Security, Medicare benefits and Medicaid would be spared, but even more draconian cuts would occur in programs that sustain working families.
There is a great irony in all this. The deficit deal does exactly the opposite of what the American people wanted. In poll after poll, the American people said they believe in shared sacrifice. Instead of putting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education and environmental protection on the chopping block, overwhelming majorities say the best way to reduce the deficit is to end tax breaks for the wealthy, big oil, and Wall Street and take a hard look at military spending.
What President Obama and Congress did, however was to let the wealthy and large corporations contribute nothing while making major reductions in services for working families and the most vulnerable people in our country.
Enough is enough! The American people must fight back. We need a government which represents all the people, not just the wealthy, campaign contributors and lobbyists. In these tough and discouraging times, despair is not an option. This fight is not just for us, it is for our children and grandchildren and for the environmental survival of the planet.
Bernie Sanders is an independent senator from Vermont.