Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why Do Workers, Children, and the Poor Get Stuck With the Bill?

Today’s New York Times carried an article indicating that many states were trying to partially solve their budget crises by cutting back on direct aid to major cities and local government.  This of course will result in one of several things … decreased local services to people who need services, increased layoffs/unemployment, or, less likely, increased property taxes.

So at the Federal level, Republicans want to cut the budget by slashing domestic programs which are supplying needed services to the American worker, the poor and their families.  The states are cutting their budgets by also cutting needed services, reducing salaries and benefits for public service workers, and cutting aid to local government, which will have the impact noted above.

The cumulative impact of this method of addressing admittedly serious budget problems at the federal, state, and local levels will be to exacerbate the effects of poverty, to harm children, and to increase unemployment, which will in turn hurt the economic recovery.  This is not a rational response by government.   But then, rarely have so many of the people with power in government (of course I’m referring to Republicans) been less rational and more ideological.

If anyone, including President Obama, had any guts and true leadership ability, the federal government would have followed some version of the recommendations made by the several nonpartisan/bipartisan commissions on reducing the deficit.  While they differed in details, they all had these points in common.  Given the size of the budget reduction needed, cuts need to be made in all areas of government, including defense, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and appropriate taxes needed to be raised. 

Only through this combination of austerity measures will the pain be shared by all.   This approach would also allow the application of a “needs” test, resulting in those who can afford more contributing more to the budget reduction.  The weakest members of our society should not have to bear the brunt of the load.

Under the American social contract, all citizens are in this boat together, and each is responsible for contributing to the cause according to his ability … with rights and riches comes a concomitant responsibility.  That is why the income tax is a progressive tax, with higher incomes paying a higher percentage. 

That basic tenet, which was developed under both Republican and Democratic progressive administrations in the early years of the 20th century, seems to have been relegated to the dustbin of history by the current Republican anti-government credo and by the new power elite who seem to have no sense of social obligation towards their fellow citizens.

William Jennings Bryan once famously said, “You shall not crucify labor upon a cross of gold.”  I would paraphrase that and say, “You shall not crucify the poor, children, and workers upon a cross of subsidies for business and tax breaks for the rich.”