“Despite his campaign promises to protect Social Security and make the economy fair, Obama’s budget throws the American people under the bus. And it gives the economic elite a free ride on that same bus that’s running us over.
Specifically, this budget swaps the painful $1.2 trillion in sequester cuts for a different, but equally painful, new package of cuts worth the same amount. As part of these new cuts, the President is leading the charge to roll back Medicare and Social Security – the “Grand Bargain” with ruthless corporate Republicans that Obama has promoted for years. There is nothing grand about dismantling the crown jewels of the New Deal and the Great Society.
The new cuts are superimposed on $1.4 trillion in cuts since 2011 that are already hurting our jobs, schools, health care, housing and social support systems. The burden this budget imposes on the wealthy is trivial by comparison – such as ending tax-benefits in private retirement accounts for those fortunate few with over 3 million already salted away.
The President’s budget proposes $400 billion in Medicare and other health care cuts, partly through requiring seniors to increase Medicare payments or reduce their coverage. Obama also calls for “means testing” Medicare, making it a benefit only for middle class and low income seniors rather than for everyone over age 65. This is a time-tested strategy to reduce public support and set a program on the road to virtual extinction – as was done to welfare under Clinton.
Obama’s budget would reduce Social Security benefits by switching to a “chained CPI” method for calculating cost of living increases. The average retiree would lose more than 2% of her income in the deal. This is more than three times the burden imposed by Obama’s nominal tax increase on the rich last year, which would amount to a mere 1/2 % of income for a wealthy couple earning half a million dollars a year.
Obama is targeting Social Security despite the fact that it’s the only thing keeping 20 million seniors out of poverty. Its payments relative to pre-retirement income are far below the retirement benefits that most European nations provide. Few Americans support Obama’s approach. According to a February 2013 Pew poll, only 10% of Americans want to cut Social Security while 41% want to increase Social Security benefits.
Obama’s budget will make a desperate economic situation even worse. Last month’s job figures showed only 88,000 new jobs were created, about half the number needed to keep real unemployment from rising. It also showed nearly a half million people had dropped out of the workforce, which largely explains the illusory, small decline in “official” unemployment. In fact the more accurate unemployment indicator, the employment to population ratio, (EPOP), shows a pathetic recovery of only about 7% of the jobs lost since 2007. Meanwhile 1 in 2 Americans are in poverty or low income, 37 million college students and recent graduates are in debt with few prospects for getting out. And with 90% of projected new jobs not requiring a college degree, and half not even requiring a high school degree – the ranks of the impoverished are, unfortunately, on a steep curve upward.
For the President – and his Republican and Democratic accomplices in Congress – to impose these austerity cuts on the American people is absolutely unjustified. Considering the economic meltdown that so many Americans are facing, it is unconscionable. The core problem of the American economy is not the budget deficit. This is simply a symptom of the bigger disease: the recession (caused by Wall Street malfeasance) which led to the massive 2008 drop in tax revenues. The deficit was further aggravated by Wall Street bailouts, the Bush/Obama tax giveaways for the rich, private medical insurance inflation, and the disastrous $6-trillion dollar military boondoggles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The real solution to the recession is to jump start the economy through a massive job creation program – like the New Deal that sparked the recovery from the Great Depression. Within the first few months of the FDR’s New Deal, millions of jobs were created, and within a few years, over 12 million people were back to work.
An alternative to the grim Grand Bargain is offered by the Green New Deal, a package of emergency reforms proposed by the Green Party. This approach would end both the economic crisis and the climate crisis in one fell swoop. It would create 25 million jobs in green energy, sustainable agriculture, public transportation and infrastructure improvements – as well as jobs that meet our social needs, including teachers, nurses, day care, affordable housing, drug abuse and violence prevention and rehabilitation. It would be funded by scaling back the oversized military budget to year 2000 levels, adopting a Medicare for All insurance system that would save trillions of dollars, requiring Wall Street gamblers to pay a small (0.5%) sales tax, taxing capitol gains as income, and taxing income more progressively. These key provisions of the Green New Deal enjoy majority public support in poll after poll.
The Green New Deal addresses the concocted deficit/debt problems by solving the bigger, underlying crises of an unraveling economy and accelerating climate catastrophe. The enormity of these threats compel solutions of equal magnitude.
The draconian budget being presented by the Obama White House is a sobering sign that that the corporate-sponsored political establishment is incapable of delivering real solutions to the nation’s critical problems.
With growing frequency, unions and advocacy groups are expressing buyer’s remorse about this President, and sending out fundraising appeals asking for money so that they can “take him on.” It’s worth asking when “taking him on” should become “leaving him behind,” and organizing for independent political action.
One thing is clear – the clock is ticking on our imperiled economy and climate. More than ever, it’s time to put our voices, our bodies, and our votes behind real solutions for a peaceful, just, green future for us all.”