A war on middle America

A war on middle America

April 7th, 2011 in Opinion Times

The reckless approach of the Republican majority in the House to slashing federal spending for the last six months of the current fiscal year, and beyond for the 2012 fiscal year, may cheer myopic tea party ideologues. But the wreckage would be devastating. It would wrongly, irresponsibly damage the lives of ordinary Americans and do irreparable harm to the nation's civic fabric, infrastructure and core safety net programs that serve most American families.

Given the damage they would do, the latest Republican proposals make it clear that House members are really not serious about shaping a bipartisan compromise on a budget for the balance of the current fiscal year, or for 2012. Their proposals also make it obvious that they have little respect for the needs of ordinary Americans, nor for their duty to provide fair treatment or to find common ground.

The short-term proposals keep pushing back the fiscal goal posts well beyond any reasonable boundaries. While Democrats had been cooperatively searching for $30 billion in additional cuts for the remainder of the 2011 budget year, Republicans just walked in Tuesday with a demand to raise the cuts by a third more. After President Barack Obama appropriately said that deeper level of short-term cuts went too far, Republicans made it clear they were ready to shut down the government by this weekend.

That is reprehensible. It would set back the economy, weaken the dollar and scare investors. But it is their new proposal for a 2012 budget that is most troublesome. It would essentially devastate services that many Americans rely on, while simultaneously larding on huge new tax cuts for corporations and the most wealthy individuals.

The proposal for 2012 proposes to slash $4.3 trillion from anticipated federal spending over the next decade by:

* Converting Medicare to a program of increasingly insufficient subsidies for seniors to buy private insurance in a largely unregulated insurance market that gives individuals no leverage to control health care costs;

* Defunding Medicaid through smaller block grants to states, shifting the larger burdens of public health to states and local governments;

* Rolling back Social Security benefits, without explanation, by $1 trillion;

* Whacking regulatory enforcement of environmental laws, food safety laws and investor protection;

* Cutting or ending critical federal aid to impoverished children and families, seniors in nursing homes, the disabled and Headstart education for at-risk children, among many other vital services;

* Crippling support for federal land management, law enforcement, scientific research and oversight of extractive industries like deep-sea oil drilling;

Even as the Republican plan for fiscal 2012 and the decade beyond would radically downsize the scope of vital government services to the pre-Depression levels of the 1920s, it would make permanent the trillion-dollar Bush tax cuts and estate taxes for the ultra-wealthy 2 percent of Americans for the years after 2012.

With those tax giveaways - and further lowering of both income taxes for the top 10 percent and deep cuts in corporate taxes - the Republican plan would reduce government tax revenues by $4.2 trillion over the same 10-year period. So essentially, Republicans would cut spending in mainly social programs by $4.3 trillion and give the savings through comparable tax cuts to wealthy corporations and individuals. They would hardly tamper with spending by the Pentagon and the general defense industry.

The overall result also would effectively endow the wealthiest American individuals and corporations with vast new wealth at a time when the top 1 percent of Americans already control more of the nation's wealth than at any time in contemporary history.

All this would not constitute a meaningful, thoughtful financial reform. Rather, it is a transparent attempt to use fear about the federal debt as a means to dramatically shift the federal government's role away from help to middle America and the nation's infrastructure to succor the wealthy and their corporate interests. Where that would leave ordinary Americans, who have long formed the backbone and wellspring of America's ingenuity and economic success, seems of no concern to Republicans.

If this Darwinian race to the bottom is what Republicans now stand for, America's future, for all but the very wealthy, is gravely threatened. If they gain more power in the 2012 elections, we now know exactly what Republicans intend to do.