Debt Ceiling Debate Issues

The debate over raising the debt ceiling and deficit reduction is coming down to the wire.  Despite the fact that Democrats control the White House and the Senate, it is right-wing Republicans who are calling the shots and setting the agenda.  Unless we fight back vigorously, Congress and President Obama will give the American people exactly what they don’t want.

Poll after poll shows that the American people want Congress to focus on job creation and that they want deficit reduction to be done in a way which is fair and which requires shared sacrifice.  They do not want the budget to be balanced on the backs of those people who are already hurting through massive cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, child care, nutrition, affordable housing, fuel assistance and environmental protection.  They want millionaires and billionaires to start paying their fair share in taxes, and they want the removal of massive loopholes which enable many large corporations to avoid taxes.  They also want a seriously significant reduction in military spending, ending the wars and closing of a large number of European and Asian bases left over from the Cold War, yet still open, funded and staffed (for what purpose?).

Republican leaders talk about three or four trillion dollars in spending cuts over the next ten years, with no new taxes on the wealthy and large corporations and unless we turn the tide NOW, they will get pretty much what they want.

Please understand what they mean.  While no specific proposals have been adopted as of this date, here are some of the ideas which have been discussed.

SOCIAL SECURITY:  Revising the formula which determines cost of living increases (COLAs) so that in ten years, a 75-year-old will receive $560 a year less in benefits and in 20 years an 85-year-old will receive $1,000 a year less.  Further, another provision which would require that Social Security always be solvent for 75 years would likely mean even larger cuts in benefits.  All of this would take place despite the fact that Social Security has not contributed one penny to the deficit and has a $2.6 trillion surplus today.  This new formula would also cut back on the pensions of veterans.  You and I have paid into Social Security throughout our entire careers and have planned our retirement savings based on certain expectations.  Now the GOP wants to move the goal posts.  They’ve even gone so far as to suggest increasing the full retirement age which would deny full benefits to many physical labor workers whose bodies just won’t allow them to work to that age, or who will be terminated late in their careers by their employers as their productivity levels fall below some arbitrary standard, so those employers can hire younger, more virile workers, at potentially some lower wage.

MEDICARE:  Raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67 and/or cutting benefits by $250 billion over ten years.  Now you tell me, how are 66 year old Americans with modest means going to afford health insurance with a private company – especially if they have medical problems?  It’s not going to happen.  They are going to suffer.  Some will unnecessarily die.  What’s going to happen to those of us who are covered by our employer’s insurance plans until age 65 when Medicare is supposed to kick in?  Will be forced into COBRA situations where we would have to pay 102% of our employer’s premium cost to continue that insurance until Medicare kicked in?  Would they change the COBRA law such that it spanned that 2-year period?

MEDICAID:  At a time when 50 million Americans already have no health insurance, Republicans and some Democrats are proposing to cut hundreds of billions from Medicaid which means that many men, women and children will lose what little health care opportunities they might have.  According to a Harvard University study, some 45,000 Americans die each year because they don’t get to a doctor when they should.  How many more will die if Medicaid is slashed?  How many children will be thrown off of the Children’s Health Insurance Program?  Is this the GOP version of Death Panels and public policy?  Die Quickly?

EDUCATION:  Today, childcare and college education are already unaffordable for millions of working families and Head Start has long waiting lists.  If Republicans and some Democrats get their way, Pell grants and other educational programs will be deeply slashed.  Affordable childcare and a college education will no longer be possible for many families in our country.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND INFRASTRUCTURE:  Forget about the government having the ability to protect the people from corporations who want to evade regulations within the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.  With massive cuts in the EPA, the resources will not be there.  Forget about this country having the investment capability to transform our energy system to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.  Forget about creating millions of jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and improving our public transportation system.  Look forward to “fracked” water tables full of carcinogens, chemicals harmful to human existence, and natural gas sufficient to enable you to light off your water faucet and use it to make Smores for the kiddies.

At a time of growing hunger in America there will be massive cuts to nutrition programs.  We have a crisis in homelessness, and there will be cuts to affordable housing.  While we need more funds for research and development in disease prevention and other areas, fewer funds will be available.  And on and on it goes.

Yes, the time is late, but we can still make a huge difference.  

We need to stand up behind those who are advocating for a deficit reduction plan which is fair, which requires the wealthy and large corporations to begin paying their fair share of taxes and contribute at least 50 percent toward any plan which is adopted.  We also need to  demand that Congress take a hard look at excessive military spending, closing a large number of the unnecessary Cold War bases across Europe and Asia, and ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a much more expeditious manner.

This nightmare can be avoided, if, as progressives, we continue to stand together for social justice and common decency.