We are nearly a week into the dreaded sequester and already there is reason to believe that the spending cuts that were designed to be so draconian and unpalatable that even the Republican party could not stomach them are here to stay.
Despite there being widespread consensus that these cuts will be extremely damaging to the economy and that they may ultimately even increase our debt load rather than lower it, the party that pushed us over this particular fiscal cliff is refusing to budge an inch. The only question that now remains is why, and for how long more, ordinary Americans will let them get away with it.
Balancing the budget and reducing the deficit are noble goals, but when a party who claims to be all about balanced budgets, shifts the entire burden of achieving one onto the poorest and neediest in our society, while doing everything in their power to protect the pocket books of the wealthy, I would be inclined to distrust their motives. All the evidence points to the fact that our most vulnerable citizens are the ones who will be hit the hardest by the sequester cuts (more on that in a moment). Yet the GOP are already making moves to reduce the impact of the cuts on the military, while they look for even more ways to cut welfare spending that will hurt the poor.
On Monday, congressional Republicans put forth a bill ostensibly designed to prevent a government shut down at the end of the month. This is welcome news in so far as I don't think any of us could stomach another round of the kind of school yard bullying that now passes for governance in the house of representatives.
But the Republican bill, which was authored by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, has come under criticism for incorporating several measures that would ease the pain of the sequester cuts on military spending, while doing nothing whatsoever to counteract the damage the cuts will inflict on domestic programs that our poorest citizens rely on. Meanwhile, both senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and house majority leader John Boehner have made it clear that any talk of revenue increases, even closing tax loopholes that only benefit the super rich, are out of the question.
So it seems that the poor are on track to take the hit for the Republican party's apparent zeal to reign in government spending, at least on programs they don't care for. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities outlined what this will mean for low income families and children. They estimated that up to 775,000 mothers and children will be turned away from the WIC Nutrition program by the end of the fiscal year; over 100,000 low income families will lose their housing assistance; 3.8 million long term unemployed people will see an 11% reduction in their weekly benefits and over 70,000 poor children will no longer benefit from the vital preschool program known as Head Start. War veterans, children with disabilities and elderly people living alone will also be made to feel the pain.
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In addition to the various cuts in services, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 750,000 jobs will be lost by the end of the year and the GDP will slow down by 0.6%. But, hey, Wall Street had a bumper day on Tuesday, so who really cares about a few hundred thousand job losses or if the poor get poorer?
Actually, we should all be deeply concerned about the long-term implications of the trickle down poverty policies that the Republican party has grown so fond of. It's no secret that inequality has been steadily rising in America for the past few decades, but I don't think most Americans are aware of the full extent of it. Mother Jones has put together a very illuminating video, based on income inequality charts that is worth a look to understand just how big the wealth gap has grown. The top 1% in this country now own 40% of the wealth while the bottom 80% only own 7% between us.
In the past 30 years the wealth of the top 1% has more than tripled, meanwhile 15% of the country are now living in abject poverty, up from 13.8% in 2008 and real median household incomes declined 1.5% in 2011, the second consecutive annual drop.
So the old cliche about the rich getting richer while the poor (and middle class) get poorer is alive and kicking. If anyone fails to see the link between this reality and the policies promoted by the Republican party that protect the rich and punish the poor, then I guess you should just keep voting republican and you will keep getting more of the same.
Certainly the Democrats have made mistakes along the way in the various debt ceiling and budgetary showdowns, and President Obama may have ceded too much ground here and there. But it's not easy to negotiate effectively when you have a congress that is run by a party who are so irresponsible they are willing to shut down the government and let children go hungry unless they get their way. It's hard to imagine that they will change their ways before 2014 when many of them are up for reelection. I just hope that between now and then the president and senate democrats manage to keep their worst excesses in check.
Come election time, I hope those who have been forced to shoulder the burden for the Republican party's fiscal recklessness make their pain felt at the ballot box.