Look behind the curtain

Look behind the curtain February 19, 2011

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.

Let’s move from Washington to Wisconsin where the Republicans are trying to plug a budget shortfall by attacking the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers (let’s not beat around the bush here – when you ban bargaining for anything but base pay, and you restrict pay increases to inflation, you have lost your collective bargaining rights). This excuse, however, is just a charade. Why do I say this? Because there was no budget crisis in Wisconsin before the election of this Republican governor. This guy actually inherited a surplus. In what seemed like days, he squandered it on tax giveaways. He is now asking public sector workers to pick up the tab. I believe this is engineered. The attack on collective bargaining does not come out of nowhere. It’s been a core Republican principle for quite a long time. It’s all about reducing the bargaining power of workers, which would have the dual benefit of giving more power to business, and reducing campaign contributions to Democrats. This is what it is all about. This crisis saw yet another decline in unionization rates and Karl Rove was practically salivating  – for exactly this political reason.

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.

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  • Minion, I share your disgust.

    The Republican agenda is, to me, plain: Destroy the gains made my the Democratic Party in the New Deal era and following, so that their paymasters (Top One Percenters) can proceed with their mission of maximizing their own wealth without interference from the parasites who build their cars and take out their trash (and teach their childr– whoops, their children are in the Farnsworth Academy for Little Rich Kids, so to hell with the public schools and their unwashed hordes.)

    It’s the “Let Them Eat Cake” plan.

    Wisconsin is one hint that the sleeping giant, the patient American worker, may just be awakening from his long slumber.

  • The plutocrats are cutting the rest of us free to drift as best we can.

  • Cindy

    Thank you Minion for all the links and pointing out what exactly they are cutting. Why people don’t feel that corporate welfare should be stopped is beyond me. Corporations have the option to run to foreign soil to drive their profits. The public sector does not. It’s really too bad so much of the public sector has fled to foreign soil, as if they stayed, the cash flow from taxes could have provided State services to maintain their budgets. I fear that there is going to be some push for trying to privatize schools. There is so much talk about let the free market run it’s course. What does that even mean with regard to schools? We are heading for an even more divided society.

  • Blackadder

    when you ban bargaining for anything but base pay, and you restrict pay increases to inflation, you have lost your collective bargaining rights

    The bill doesn’t restrict pay increases to inflation, it’s says that any such increase must be approved by the voters via referendum. Given that the voters are the ones who have to pay the salaries that hardly seems unreasonable.

    • Must every spending decision then involve a referendum, given that taxpayer funding is on the line? How come Walker got away with destroying an inherited surplus in what seemed like hours without appealing to the voters?

      • Blackadder

        Must every spending decision then involve a referendum, given that taxpayer funding is on the line?

        It doesn’t have to, but it might be a good idea.

        How come Walker got away with destroying an inherited surplus in what seemed like hours without appealing to the voters?

        That’s easy. He didn’t.

    • Kurt


      C’mon, BA, you have crossed the line into silliness.

  • What amazes me is how few people can actually see the simple most obvious truth on this. But then they have not noticed as the GOP repeatedly gave tax breaks to U.S. corporations over that last 30 years to ship good manufacturing jobs overseas. Jobs that will not come back.

    The only good part is shortly they will not have unions to blame anymore, but it will be too late then as America will have been completely gutted by avarice.

  • SB
    • I have posted multiple times that the Church and its doctrine totally support the workers in this matter, and while it would seem to me like that would be adequate enough for most Catholics to throw their full support behind the unions in Wisconsin it seems as though you continue to rail against them SB.

      So while it too may fail to penetrate, I have taken the liberty to make a film that hopefully will show you a humane angle on this matter and also provides so background as to how we found our way here here in the first place. It has a healthy dose of facts and I hope it helps you find your way back to the side of your own Church: http://bit.ly/iaYN1J

      • SB

        I still haven’t seen any church authority that speaks directly to the issue of public sector unions, or that even seems aware of the issue in the first place.

        • Stuart

          The reason is quite simple: people are people, and the Church promotes the ability of people to have unions. It has already said this as a general rule, which then implies the particulars. Your argument is like some 15th century person saying “Well, the Church has talked about Jesus becoming man as a man who helps Greeks and Jews, but I never saw them mention Indians” as an excuse to ignore the needs of the Indians and to abuse them.

        • That’s a bit like those who say the Church condemns torture for reasons A, B, and C, but not for reason D; hence torture is OK for reason D. The Church supports the right to collective bargaining. Period.

        • I can only add to the comments of the other two gentlemen by saying that I missed your reply and apologize for doing so and hope that this link will hopefully close the issue for you: http://www.archmil.org/News/StatementRegardingtheRightsofW.htm


    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      To call the second source a supporter of private sector unions is a bit of a stretch: he seems to me to be at best tolerant.

      The argument in both cases revolves around the notion that workers should not have the power to negotiate with the state since this gives them undo leverage which leads to corruption. The problem with this analysis is that it is very one-sided: it decries the “leverage and corruption” of public service unions, but ignores the same activities by private corporations. A popular majority might, for instance, want to raise corporate taxes, but find their will thwarted by a variety of tactics: the wholesale funding of political candidates, lobbying, and straight up blackmail (“raises taxes and we will move our corporate headquarters out of town/out of state/out of the country”.)

      What is being overlooked here is that democracy is about competing interests, often with venal motivations. A quick reading of the Federalist papers shows that the Founding Fathers were aware of this (in principle though not in modern detail) and tried to craft a system of governance which could deal with this.

      So maybe the question to ask is this: if we as Catholics believe that workers have a right to organize, then how can we adapt our systems of governance to make this work? I note that in many places public service unions (particularly in vital sectors such as police and fire) accept no strike clauses in contracts; many teachers unions and municipalities have binding arbitration clauses.

      The argument that public sector employees do not have economic motivation to negotiate overlooks the fact that they have many other motivations to negotiate in good faith. Teachers want to be in the classroom—indeed, most workers want to be working.