Yesterday Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum drew some disheartening conclusions from the budget deal worked out between Congressman Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray – the much-lauded compromise that is headed for passage, barring some last-minute Tea Party putsch in the House. Sure, Drum allowed, the budget’s entitlement cuts were almost too tiny to notice, and along the way some sequester reductions were restored. But that wasn’t the point.
“Two years ago,” Drum wrote, “Ryan’s budget was basically at the outer limit of mainstream conservative wish lists. Today it looks tame . . . Republicans have massively changed the spending conversation since 2010. Austerity has won.”
The fact remains that many in the political media are applauding the new budget as a triumph of realpolitik simply because it defuses the threat of a determined minority taking down the world economic order – a threat that has become the new baseline in budget negotiations.
But they’re winning the big one: How the nation understands our biggest domestic problem.
They say the biggest problem is the size of government and the budget deficit.
In fact our biggest problem is the decline of the middle class and increasing ranks of the poor, while almost all the economic gains go to the top.
The Labor Department reported Tuesday that only 148,000 jobs were created in September — way down from the average of 207,000 new jobs a month in the first quarter of the year.
Many Americans have stopped looking for work. The official unemployment rate of 7.2 percent reflects only those who are still looking. If the same percentage of Americans were in the workforce today as when Barack Obama took office,
Weeks after a political stalemate set in motion $85 billion in federal spending cuts for fiscal year 2013, sequestration has shifted from a political debate in the halls of Congress to a looming reality in neighborhood streets – especially in some of the poorest areas of the country.
In Georgia, the drop in federal dollars is taking an 11 percent bite out of extended unemployment benefits that more than 61,000 Georgians depend on for food, utilities and housing, according to the Rome News-Tribune.
In Mississippi, 2,300 children under the age of three will likely lose the care and early education they receive in federally-supported Early Head Start programs.
And in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, sequester will mean cuts in legal aid services and housing vouchers for low-income families and reductions in job-search services for the unemployed.
Many community organizations that serve low-income families are already feeling the money pinch.
A friend of mine emailed me last fall incredibly worried about the impact of potential sequestration cuts on schools and students across the country. He was a long-time Washington D.C.-based public education advocate, so I was simultaneously unshaken and unnerved by his concern. Sequestration seemed like a D.C.-based fear, so unlikely to actually happen given the blowback that would surely come from such imprecise cuts. But my friend’s many years of fighting for resources for children’s education meant that I couldn’t really ignore his concerns, and so his words remained a low-level worry until March 1, when I had to concede that he’d been right all along.
Funding for shared needs like education is always at risk and the past few weeks have highlighted just how great that risk is.
Shoddy political theater distracts people with vague demons called debt ceiling, fiscal cliff and now, sequester. Party leaders posture for major donors, media boosters and the faithful. They claim to save us from the demons. Meanwhile, backstage they all agree on austerity as the “necessary” response to “our major problem,” namely federal budget “imbalance.” “We” are spending “beyond our means,” accumulating “government debts.” So “we” must raise taxes and cut spending – impose austerity – to regain balance.
On January 1, payroll taxes rose (from 4.2 to 6.2 percent) for 150 million Americans. Their checks shrank as that regressive tax became more so. Obama’s hyped “tax increase for the rich” was comparatively trivial. It affected only the very few Americans earning over $450,000, raising their top tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent. Our leaders hope we forgot the 1950s and 1960s, when the top tax rate was 91 percent. On March 1,