Budget Wars Consist of One-Sided Compromises

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The Nation

Budget Wars Consist of One-Sided Compromises

The national calls for “shared sacrifice” during these times of austerity presuppose that giant corporations like Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil share the same amount of privilege and power as, say, your grandmother.

If the upper one percent has to pay slightly more taxes, say the GOP and some Democrats, including the president, then octogenarians have to say bon voyage to their traditional Social Security and Medicare payments.

It remains to be seen if the GOP is willing to meet President Obama halfway on his plans to tax the wealthy at slightly higher rates. Even if the president did get the GOP to acquiesce in this one area, the lavishly rich would still be taxed at historically low rates (no one is seriously considering going back to Eisenhower’s 91 percent, or Nixon’s 70 percent.)

Basically, this is all a fight to go from 35 percent to the Clinton-era 39 percent top marginal rates. A four percent increase simply doesn’t carry the same punch as significantly gutting the social safety net for the poor majority. A single mother of four is going to feel the toll of dwindling food stamps way, way more than a hedge fund manager is going to feel the miniature tax creep – if it happens at all.

Yet, this narrative of “shared sacrifice” – as if all parties are equally sacrificing their means – has fully permeated the national discourse.

Nowhere is this kind of one-sided compromise more apparent than the funding chaos that just ensued in New Jersey. Using his line-item veto authority, Gov. Christie hacked away at the Democratic-controlled legislature’s spending plan, slashing $900 million from the budget.

Christie nixed health care funding for low-income workers, tax credits for the working poor, and money for AIDS relief and mental-health services, yet he managed to add funds ($150 million) for some of the wealthiest towns in the state.

The governor’s attack against the poor follows his recent signing of a law that limits the ability of New Jersey’s public employees to collectively bargain for health care benefits, and cuts the paychecks of those workers in order to increase their contributions towards health care plans and pensions.

The state Democrats laid down during this vicious attack on the working poor in the spirit of bipartisanship, naturally. Sharing the sacrifice, and what not. Of course, then the Democrats were simply shocked – shocked! – that a Republican governor, who they had just sold out their own party in order to support, would then turn around and stab them in the back. Senate President Stephen Sweeney furiously spat that Christie was a “bully” and a “punk,” and that he wanted to “punch him in his head.”

But there was no need for Sweeney to feign surprise. This is the era of the one-sided compromise, where millionaires are taxed at rock bottom rates while the working poor have their pensions stolen from them.

The starkness of Christie’s one-sided compromise is made all the more apparent when one considers that his education cuts could be reversed simply by implementing a millionaire’s tax. Of course, that would entail calling for actual shared sacrifice, and that simply isn’t acceptable.

Instead, the governor decided to briefly go to war with the state Supreme Court over education funding before the court ultimately found that he hadn’t allowed the schools to provide for their students, and ordered the state to restore $500 million in funding.

In a speech on Tuesday, President Obama coupled his demand for tax increases on the wealthy with a pledge to take on spending in “entitlement programs.” These two items are often paired together as if they carry equal weight.

Cutting the fat from an upper tier that is currently enjoying historically lavish wealth and gutting state pension plans are not equivalent acts. It makes sense when John Boehner crafts this comparison, but it’s disconcerting when President Obama plays into the false narrative.

Allison Kilkenny

Allison Kilkenny is the co-host of the progressive political podcast Citizen Radio (wearecitizenradio.com) and independent journalist who blogs at allisonkilkenny.com. Her work has appeared in The American Prospect, the L.A. Times, In These Times, Common Dreams, Truthout and the award-winning grassroots NYC newspaper The Indypendent.

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