A People’s Look at Budget Cuts

The “Titanic” faux-battle between the very conservative TEA Party wing of the GOP, the old fashioned pretty conservative wing of Republicans, the fairly conservative majority of Democrats, and Denis Kucinich and Bernie Sanders is about to come to an end. This will happen just in time to raise the Federal Debt Ceiling Limit and keep the U.S. government from shutting down. This despite the TEA Partyers chanting “Cut or Shut”. Why they would want to shut down the government rather than accept a small cut in last year’s budget versus accepting a slightly larger small cut in the budget; who knows? Either the smaller cut or the larger small cut eliminates less than 5% of the deficit incurred in the total budget; because they are both dealing with only the 12% of the budget called “discretionary spending” (not counting spending on the military).

Washington is not even addressing why they are not addressing the other 88% of the budget. Apparently they are waiting to pass last year’s minute budget cuts before they can explain why they might not be dealing with the 88% of the spending that contains the major problems in the 2012 budget. But before they even get to the dog and pony show of 2012, let’s take a look at the current last year’s proposed cuts and see where the Washington Clown Circus is coming from. And while we are at it; let’s consider some budget reworking that actually serves the interest of the people of the US of A.

The current approach to budget cutting focuses primarily on cutting things that go to the old, the poor and the disadvantaged. Each group is minority of Americans and even taken all together, partially because there is some overlap among the groups, they are still a minority of American citizens and thus less popular and powerful than if they were a majority. But in some cases of spending cuts, the concept of taking from those with the greatest need is also being applied to the majority of Americans.

The Republican proposed cuts include lowering the amount of money being given to the National Institutes of Health and the Center for Disease Control. Wouldn’t all Americans potentially benefit from progress in developing a greater understanding and perhaps a cure from auto-immune diseases or cancers? Why would any American want funding for national public health cut?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce which represents American and multinational foreign business interests have said that strong American education opportunities are vital for a productive U.S and world economy. But the Republicans who are closely allied with Big Business are pushing for cuts in education funding. Did someone get their signals crossed or is someone not really telling the truth about the future value of good education to this country? Are any of the future high tech jobs being promised actually going to go to Americans?

Is getting rid of NPR, CPB or the NEA really a net plus for America? Sure some of the things that NPR or the NEA do are in the service of the avant-garde and/or the political left. But wouldn’t it be a better and more efficient use of public funding to insist on the money being used only for legitimate main stream educational entertainment and arts, than to throw the Big Bird out with the bath water? And how does eliminating a very successful program like Head Start help the future of America? Is punishing the poor by depriving their children of critical assistance in their key early learning years, actually going to eliminate poverty and the demands it makes on our society or increase it?

The FDA protects the health and safety of Americans when it comes to food and drugs. It warns of and requires recalls of drugs with dangerous and even deadly side effects. It warns the public and makes producers of contaminated foods take the product off the shelves. The EPA watches industries and other entities to keep them from polluting and contaminating the nation’s air and water. Who would want less funding for the FDA and EPA and consequently less ability for them to do their job of protecting us? Certainly not the American people, but perhaps there are affected business interests who could make more money with less regulation and enforcement of health and safety laws. But isn’t that exactly the reason we have those agencies and want the laws strengthened and enforced to the max?

There are other examples, but just these few make it pretty easy to see that most of the currently proposed budget spending cuts will hurt the broad public interest and often may do so while helping private corporate interests get richer. About 98% of American tax payers don’t benefit from some government spending, which was enacted only to help the rich get richer by giving them corporate welfare at the public trough. So how about we turn the table around and make a few cuts that help the American people and redress some of the unfair current spending which is currently not facing cuts.

The fact is that many companies like Exxon and G.E., to name just two, make $19+ billion and $14+ billion in profits respectively and neither paid a penny in income taxes last year. An increase in revenue through closing the loopholes in the current tax code that allow these companies to avoid their responsibility as American corporate citizens, would be better than any cut. It would allow us to maintain vital and desired services without forcing the rest of us, without specially crafted loopholes, to pay their share of the tax shortfall.

Providing Big Agribusiness with subsidies to grow unneeded corn so they can turn it into fuel additives that are bad for engines is a criminal waste of our money and natural resources. It takes up and depletes valuable crop land that could be used to raise more needed and less destructive crops such as wheat. The land could also be used to graze livestock on their natural food source ‘” native grasses that are self sustaining and better for the livestock. The subsidized corn we now feed them is not as nutritional as their natural grass feed and is difficult for cattle to digest, so extra artificial supplements and drugs must be added to their feed and wind up in our food. Cutting the many such subsidies that are costly and bad management policies would save billions and make for a better food supply.

Big Energy is the biggest corporate mooch in the whole Pantheon of business freeloaders. There are the tax breaks and allowances that the Oil & Gas Conglomerates have been getting for almost a century cost Americans billion a year and are clearly undeserved in light of their staggering annual profits. Then there is the special deal that was granted the Oil & Gas industry under arrangements made in 2005 by Vice-President Cheney that amended the Clean Air & Water and the Safe Drinking Water Acts to exempt the Oil & Gas industry from EPA regulation and enforcement. This despite their long and ugly record of bending and breaking existing rules to make themselves one of the dirtiest businesses and largest polluter of the environment, including the BP Gulf disaster and the ongoing natural gas Fracking contamination of water supplies under investigation and facing charges in at least a half a dozen states. Collecting the income taxes they are not currently paying from Big Energy while eliminating their tax avoidance gifts, and giving the EPA back control of their activities would accomplish two vital jobs of the government; lowering the tax burden for all Americans while providing needed services and protecting our absolutely critical air and water resources.

Allowing the military to select necessary and eliminate unnecessary facility and equipment contracts, without the pressure from politicians for pork barrel deals, would help the military aspect of the budget which is virtually off limits to cutting because of the self serving politicians in Washington. We would continue to have the best military in the world, but it would cost a lot less.

The Big Three of Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid, collectively known as “the entitlements” need be addressed; but don’t they necessarily require the Draconian cutting with an axe treatment that some suggest. Social Security is the easiest of the three to straighten out; just a few minor adjustments will bring it from the early Twentieth Century into the Twenty First and beyond. SS was designed to start paying out at 65 years of age at a time when the average life span was about 66 years of age. At its heart it was truly a widows and orphans income protection program designed to keep a worker’s survivors off the “relief” rolls. It was created when most of the labor force was male, started right out of high school or sooner, worked a solid 45 years+ and then had very few “golden” years to enjoy. Eighty years later, with the average life expectancy somewhere in the upper seventies, many more people not starting work until after college or graduate school; why shouldn’t we expect kids who haven’t even started pres-school yet to work until they are 70 before getting their benefits? Since working a lifetime for company pensions and most company pensions themselves are pretty much a thing of the past; why shouldn’t the contributions to SS be raised slightly, especially on the employers end, in lieu of job security? And why should top corporate executives who earn multiples in salary of what middle and working class employees pay only as much in SS as a middle level manager or shop foreman? Raising the cutoff of SS payments to at least 250K would help distribute the funding of the program a lot more fairly. These and other suggestions are only minor tinkering which would take the “third rail” terror out of SS and make it viable for another century or more.

Medicare and Medicaid are a whole other problem, or really sets of problems. The mostly Republican bunch in Congress who wants put these essential health care programs to the knife, are the same group who just a few years ago created a multi trillion dollar give away boondoggle for Big Pharma in the Medicare/Medicaid Drug Bill. This agreement for the government health programs to pay out top dollar for drugs without the negotiations opportunity available to the insurance industry has cost the U.S. Taxpayer a large fortune and is the gift that keeps giving to the multinational pharmaceutical corporations every single day. Just re-legislating this would help lower health care costs. Eliminating the insurance companies as middlemen, who tack on an additional 30% in costs to provide themselves high profits and huge executive salaries for nothing more than shuffling paperwork, would also save a huge bundle in unnecessary costs. They don’t do medicine, they don’t advocate for patients, they in fact make more profits when they provide less to subscribers; putting profits in conflict with providing help creates a real danger for patients. The Veterans Administration is government provided health services for millions of Americans; done with the best interest of the patient as job one and with an overhead of less than 5%. If a government funded system, universally accessible, with private medical care available for those who want and can afford it, independently run by medical professionals instead of bean counters sounds like a better deal for Americans all the way around; why not make it happen? If providing the kind of health care most Americans want costs some corporate entities and their public official dependants their place at the public trough, so be it!

If the Administration and Congress in Washington really wants to get back to serving the people who elected them and ultimately fund the whole operation; there task is a pretty straight forward one. Government handouts to the richest people and corporations in the country who neither need nor deserve these gifts must be stopped, entirely, right now. Taxes on those who enjoy the benefits and don’t contribute a red penny must be re-legislated so that the entities domestic or foreign pay their fair share of their participation in the American society. The long standing social and health care programs to which American workers have contributed in good faith for generations must be made financially sound and functional. A combination of eliminating the theft of American human and natural economic resources by corporate gangsters in conjunction with a rational reworking of the tax code will provide adequate funding for all the necessary services American’s are entitled to as per the current social contract with their government. The alternative is continue down the road to a new form of Feudalism in which an elite wealthy few own or control virtually all the resources and production capabilities of the nation and the American people devolve into a new Serf class beholding to the Corporate Lords for our bread and shelter. Isn’t that what we fought a revolution to over-throw and eliminate? Do we really want or have to do it again? But we and they must always remember; if we have to we can and we will!