If Congress approves President Obama’s budget proposal, it will mark the beginning of the end for the social insurance model that the labor movement and its allies have spent generations establishing and defending. This is the first time that a sitting Democratic President has proposed cuts in Social Security and Medicare. But it won’t be the last. As every shop steward knows, once you agree to put a cherished provision on the table, you open it up to an endless series of cuts and concessions.
For working people, these cuts couldn’t come at a worse time. Many have had their life savings decimated by the Great Recession and the collapse of the housing bubble. Social Security provides two-thirds of the income for a typical retiree. And it will get even worse for the next generation that the politicians always claim they are so concerned about. 51% of current workers are not covered by any employer pension or 401 (k) program and 34% have absolutely no retirement savings. The budget also would cut veteran’s benefits and federal employee pensions and other benefits.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street profiteers who caused the economic meltdown and were bailed out afterwards are virtually unscathed by Obama’s revenue proposals. The budget does not include a Financial Transaction Tax which could easily raise over $100 billion per year for needed social programs, nor does it increase corporate taxes.
What is particularly outrageous about the President’s budget proposal is that there would be absolutely no federal budget deficit if the U.S. spent per capita what any other industrialized country spends on healthcare. These countries all have national, single-payer style healthcare systems that treat healthcare as a fundamental human right and nearly all have better health outcomes than the U.S. (the United States has consistently ranked dead last in studies of OECD nations). The choice couldn’t be clearer: solve the budget deficit on the backs of hardworking Americans who had nothing to do with its cause or solve it by eliminating our dysfunctional, for-profit private insurance healthcare system and replacing it with a single payer Medicare-for-All system that would make healthcare a right for everyone in America.
The AFL-CIO has called the budget proposals wrong and indefensible and nearly all unions agree. The National Nurses United are spearheading an April 20 March on the White House and Treasury Department to demand that President Obama and Treasury Secretary Lew stand with the American people and not Wall Street and support a Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions.
In Congress, Reps. Alan Grayson (D-Fl.) and Mark Takano (D-CA), at the urging of the Progressive Democrats of America’s Educate Congress Campaign have been circulating a letter asking all members of Congress to sign a pledge that unequivocally states that, “We will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits—including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”
This is a crisis that calls for a Wisconsin-style mobilization. 90% of all Americans oppose any cuts to social security. The “Grand Bargain” touted by the press and the political establishment is with Wall Street, not with the American people. Every member of Congress should sign the Grayson/Takano letter and then we should hold their feet to the fire until this budget proposal is relegated to the trash bin.
We can win this fight. In 1989, Ronald Reagan’s Medicare Catastrophic Care Act was implemented and a surcharge was levied on the income of senior citizens. Shortly thereafter, angry seniors chased House Ways and Means Chair Dan Rostenkowski down a Chicago street. Similar protests took place in Congressional districts around the country and the surcharge was soon repealed.
Send a delegation to your local Congressional office today. Ask your Representative to sign the Grayson/Takano letter. Let’s put a stop to this disastrous budget proposal and then begin a real discussion about a people’s budget that solves healthcare first and makes Wall Street pay its fair share.