While President Obama’s highly anticipated jobs speech seems to be all political junkies are paying attention to today (that is, if you’re not a football junkie), attention must also be paid to the first meeting of the infamous super-committee.
Today these twelve men and women begin the business of finding $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in new revenues and spending cuts over the next decade. What this committee comes up with might go a long way towards determining the kinds of resources that will be available (or not) for any lasting economic recovery.
Before embarking on a GOP “cuts only” approach that too many Democrats seem willing to buy into, the super-committee members—six from the House and six from the Senate, evenly divided between the parties—should look homeward to their own districts and states and see how their constituents are doing. That should serve as a reminder of just whom it is they were elected to serve—it’s not K Street and the nearly 100 registered lobbyists who used to work for super committee members and now expect to be “heavily involved” in this debate, according to the Washington Post. It’s their constituents back home.
That’s why Half in Ten—a national campaign to reduce poverty by 50 percent over the next ten years—along with the Center for American Progress Action Fund, have put together a comprehensive fact sheet for each of the twelve members, describing the conditions in their districts and states—from the jobs picture, to the impact of tax policy, to poverty and education.
For example, in the district of Committee co-chair Jeb Hensarling—a Republican Congressman from Texas who raises nearly 40 percent of every $100 in campaign donations from finance, insurance, or real estate—the poverty rate is over 14 percent, including more than one in five children. More than one in five residents are living without healthcare. Thirty percent of families in his district are dealing with hunger. Since August 2008, the state has lost nearly 95,000 manufacturing jobs as well as 84,000 construction jobs, and the teen unemployment rate is 60 percent. Meanwhile, those who are doing well can thank a skewed tax policy that’s making the rich richer: individuals earning more than $200,000—3 percent of the state’s residents—reduced their tax liability by $23 billion on capital gains and dividend earnings write-offs alone in 2009. Too bad that for every individual earning $200,000, 24 earned $50,000 or less.
Should Hensarling be looking to cut Pell Grants for the 578,000 recipients in his state? Or the benefits of nearly 71,000 people in his district who receive Social Security income? Or food stamps for 21,000 households in his district that turned to them over the past twelve months? Maybe instead he should simply say thank you very much to his corporate donors, but then allow the government to negotiate lower drug prices for seniors just like the VA does for veterans. Or eliminate the tax deduction for vacation homes. Maybe even support a modest financial transaction tax that reins in speculation—such as the one called for by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, or used in the UK—which could raise up to $175 billion per year. (Hey, combine that with closing the corporate tax havens that cost $100 billion in lost revenues every year and your job is done, super-committee.)
But it’s not just Republicans who need to take stock of conditions back home. For starters, two-thirds of the lobbyists with committee ties are Democrats. Thirteen of them worked for committee co-chair, Senator Patty Murray, who has strong ties to the defense industry in Washington State. Although she has a record of standing up for at-risk populations, The Nation’s Ari Berman reports that both she and fellow super-committee member Senator John Kerry signed a letter in March calling for a “grand bargain” deal that would include “discretionary spending cuts, entitlement changes and tax reform.”
But nearly 30 percent of Murray’s constituents are already living on less than $44,100 for a family of four, and more than one-quarter live on income from Social Security. Since August 2008, the state lost nearly 63,000 construction jobs and 29,000 manufacturing jobs. With one in five families now dealing with hunger, more than 250,000 households needed food stamps in the past twelve months. One in five children under age 5 are now living in poverty, and over 1.1 million people receive Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program benefits.
In contrast, the state’s richest 2.9 percent earning $200,000 or more decreased their tax liability by over $6.5 billion in 2009 through capital gains and dividend earnings deductions alone.
The story is the same virtually everywhere in the country. If you look only at the eleven states represented on the committee (Michigan has two members—Republican Congressmen Dave Camp and Fred Upton), the wealthiest states’ residents aggregated over $94 billion in capital gains and dividend earnings deductions just in 2009. 11 states—nearly $100 billion in deductions just for capital gains and dividends for the richest 1.6 to 4.4 percent. And we’re having a hard time finding revenues? Please.
“Super-committee members have a choice: to represent the interests of their constituents or protect the wealthy and special interests,” says Melissa Boteach, manager of Half in Ten. “With so many of their constituents living in poverty, struggling to access good quality jobs, and relying on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other effective services, the choice is clear.”
And yet more and more Congress and statehouses are looking to balance budgets on the backs of those already struggling.
The GOP with it’s human slashonomics approach has now set its sights on the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit, which give thousands of dollars a year to working families and lifted 7.2 million people out of poverty (below $22,400 per year for a family of four) in 2009 alone. Many states are reducing unemployment benefits and state earned income tax credits, as well as cash assistance to poor families. Phil Oliff, policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, reports this week on lawmakers in Missouri who want to eliminate a property tax credit for low- and moderate-income seniors and people with disabilities in order to help finance new tax credits for businesses. This would continue a nationwide trend of enacting expensive tax cuts while slashing education, healthcare and other vital public services needed by vulnerable citizens.
The grand bargain isn’t grand if it only lifts a few yachts while letting millions of boats flounder or sink. Get the facts.