In mid-April, Congress gave Bush an additional $79 billion to fund the war effort – this on top of a defense budget of $400 billion. The $1.4 trillion tax cut for the rich passed in 2001 will create huge budget deficits over the next decade. Additionally, the $550 billion in supplemental tax cuts for the top 1% of earners in America, passed by the House of Representatives on April 11, has led the Congressional Budget Office to project a $1.8 trillion deficit between 2004-2013 (NY Times 17 April 2003).
Politicians are trying to overcome this deficit by making huge cuts in social programs. Cuts in Medicaid, school lunches, education, and veterans’ benefits will have a disproportionate effect on the most vulnerable and hard-working in our society, who have to pick up the slack from a lack of government services such as childcare, healthcare, and elderly care. And it is predominantly women who work in human services whose jobs will be eliminated.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that reductions in mandatory programs for the elderly, veterans, and the poor would total about $265 billion over 10 years. Another $210 billion would be cut from other programs such as Temporary Aid for Needy Families – welfare. (NY Times, 4/6/03)
“I’m just living one day to the next right now,” said Carol DeBoer, whose husband has Alzheimer’s disease. “We worked hard; we paid our taxes. If there is enough money for wars, shouldn’t there be enough to help seniors?” (NY Times, 4/21/03)
The Two Parties’ Neo-Liberal Agenda
For 30 years, corporations have been on a neo-liberal offensive to “liberate” corporations from taxes and regulations. Both Republicans and Democrats have shifted the tax burden off corporations, the wealthy, and the federal government and onto the working class and the states. And since the latest capitalist economic recession has diminished tax revenues, state deficits are the worst they’ve been in 50 years. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is projecting between $70 and $85 billion in shortfalls, representing 14.5% to 18% of state expenditures.
11 states have cut Medicaid programs, which provide healthcare to the poor. Education has also come under the knife, forcing colleges across the country to raise tuition on average by 10% in 2001. In order to raise revenues, many states are implementing sales taxes on items such as food and tobacco – regressive flat taxes that hit the poor the hardest.
Budget deficits are used as a convenient excuse to justify cuts in social services, because politicians can claim “the money isn’t available.” However, politicians seem to have no problem finding billions of dollars to finance the war. The additional $79 billion Congress gave Bush would easily cover the projected state budget shortfalls for this fiscal year.
The Democrats claim to represent workers, people of color, and women, yet they always prioritize their corporate sponsors. Democrats are in fact implementing huge cuts in social services. In Washington State, a projected budget deficit of $2.4 billion has led Democratic Governor Gary Locke to propose delaying the implementation of two ballot initiatives passed by voters to insure cost of living adjustments for teachers and class size reduction.
Time for Working People to Fight Back
Working people can’t afford to accept the argument that some social programs have to be cut to balance the budget. We shouldn’t have to choose between funding healthcare or education. In the richest country in history, why can’t we have both?
All these programs would be affordable if we taxed corporations and the rich and quit wasting $400 billion a year on the Pentagon. Corporations that threaten to leave the state or the country if we increase their taxes should be put under public ownership and workers’ democratic control and management.
Unions, community organizations, and anti-war activists must unite to build a mass movement in the streets to stop all cuts in social services, layoffs, and tax hikes on the working class. Community coalitions should be set up to organize protests and educational forums. Public sector union leaders need to organize strikes and job actions to stop layoffs of government workers and cuts in services.
Rather than cutting back desperately needed public services, we need massive public works programs to rebuild our crumbling schools, develop public transportation, and clean up the environment. This, along with establishing a 30-hour workweek with no loss in pay or benefits, could wipe out unemployment.
Rather than trying to pressure the two corporate parties that are instituting cuts and layoffs, local coalitions of unions, community organizations, anti-war activists, Greens, and socialists should run independent working class candidates for office. Candidates should pledge to live on an average worker’s wage and give no support to Democrats or Republicans. These local coalitions could be the seeds of a new working class political party and a movement that could challenge big business and their two parties.