On Native Ground
ALTERNATIVES TO AUSTERITY
by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
November 18, 2010
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) is the only person sitting on President Obama's deficit reduction commission who is a progressive.
Since Schakowsky is outnumbered on the commission by conservatives who have already made up their minds about cutting benefits for the working class and cutting taxes for the upper class, she has had a hard time getting her ideas heard.
But this week, she released her ideas for reducing the deficit, while keeping intact programs that benefit average Americans. They include:
As for Social Security, she proposes the simplest solution of all to keeping the program solvent for decades to come -- raising the income cap on FICA taxes.
Schakowsky's plan is sensible and reflects the sentiments of the majority of Americans who are more concerned about creating new jobs than they are about the deficit.
"Lower and middle class Americans did not cause the deficit," she said. "Just 10 years ago the federal budget was generating a surplus as far as the eye could see. That surplus was turned into a deficit due to massive tax cuts - mainly to wealthy Americans; two wars paid for by borrowed money; and a major recession caused by the recklessness of the big Wall Street banks. Over the last decade the incomes of middle-class Americans have actually shrunk, while those of the wealthiest 2 percent of the population have exploded. The middle class did not benefit from the Republican economic policies that led to the current deficit - they were the victims - [and] they should not be called upon to pick up the tab."
However, we are not living in a sensible country anymore.
We are looking at a future where it is going to be a constant fight to defend programs that benefit the majority of Americans, programs that the wealthy elite want to see destroyed.
And, we are dealing with a media elite that refuse to acknowledge that the wealthy is waging class warfare and are willing to let the nation go to hell as long as they can keep their tax breaks and corporate welfare.
That is why Schakowsky's plan, and the reaction to it by the so-called "serious" people in Washington, serves as an example of where the debate is headed regarding the role of government in our society.
If you want a civilized society - one with a good education system, one with a sound public infrastructure, one with clean water and air, one with safe food and safe consumer products, one with robust public institutions that keep our streets safe, minister to the needs of the poor and vulnerable and allow the elderly to live out their lives in dignity - somebody has to pay for it.
For the past three decades, Americans have been sold the idea that there is such a thing as a free lunch - that they can have tax cuts and still have sound public institutions. The reality is that we either pay the cost of maintaining a civilized society, or we lose it altogether.
So, who should pay? The middle-class Americans who have seen stagnant incomes for three decades, and took the biggest financial hit in the current recession? Or the wealthy elite and corporations who have vacuumed up nearly all the economic growth during that same period?
This is a debate that is necessary, and critical to our nation's survival.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.