Republicans love to seize the mantle of fiscal austerity, and to stress the urgent need to reduce government debt. Let’s set aside the fact that, despite the rhetoric, they have no record of actually doing anything to curb deficits, especially during good times when a prudent steward stores up the wealth. Time and again we see it – large tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy and the ramping up of military spending. We see it again today. The claim is that fiscal sustainability can be restored without raising taxes, and by focusing principally on non-military discretionary spending (12 percent of the budget).
This is peanuts. It cannot possibly do the job. But that is the point. It might be peanuts, but it is incredibly harmful. Look at exactly what Republicans are targeting (often aided and abetted by a feckless administration) and you will see the true priorities. Forget the rhetoric. Look at what they are actually doing. The proof is in the pudding. Cuts to Head Start, which provides at-risk children up to age 5 with education, health, nutrition. Cuts Pell Grants, which help students afford college. Cuts Workforce Investment Act funding to provide job training, job search, and other employment assistance for low-income adults and workers whose jobs have been eliminated. Cut funds for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and for the Food Safety Inspection Service. Cuts benefits for the unemployed. Cuts funds to community health centers, which would leave 3 million people without basic health care. In other words, the poor must pay most. We all know that Catholic social teaching has a thing or two to say about that.
There’s more. Gutting the financing of the Securities and Exchange commission, so it cannot implement the Dodd-Frank Act (a weak attempt at financial regulation that is still despised by Wall Street). Defunding the implementation of health care reform. Blocking funding for EPA’s implementation of greenhouse gas regulations. Shrinking funding for the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a new agency designed to protect consumers from predatory lending, as well as all kinds of tricks to make in unable to operate, including prohibiting its top management from drawing salaries and preventing them from hiring any staff. In the overall budget, this is all peanuts. The effects are anything but. This represents a blatant war on the poor, and an attempt to defend large banks and polluters.
It is appalling that this is happening during the worst level of inequality since just before the Great Depression, an inequality that can be traced directly to the deregulation (particularly in the financial sector) that began in the 1980s combined the decades of deunionization. It is appalling that this is happening in the aftermath of the Great Recession, which caused 8 million to lose their jobs in the United States, and for public debt to increase almost 40 percentage points. Who caused this crisis? The financial sector. And who is being asked to pay? The poor, the unemployed, the uninsured, the public sector worker. There’s something very very wrong going on here.