Governor Scott Walker and a gaggle of Republican governors assault the right of workers to bargain collectively in states across the country. Teachers get laid off as school budgets are cut across the country. Colleges hike tuitions and shut down course offerings. Public workers face furloughs, layoff, cuts in health care and pension benefits. Congress is tied in knots about how much and what to cut. And Republican and bipartisan pressure to go after Social Security and Medicare is escalating.
We should be very clear about what unites these stories, for these struggles will say much about what kind of America emerges from the rubble of the Great Recession.
Who gets stuck with the bill for the Great Recession?
From the tea party Republican caucus to the Obama White House, leaders of both parties have moved from worrying about the recovery to worrying about how to pay for the costs of the Great Recession. With 25 million Americans in need of full time work, this is bipartisan folly. With Japan melting down, the Middle East erupting, energy and food prices soaring, housing prices and starts sinking, states and localities enacting brutal budget cuts, it is callously irresponsible, risking a double dip recession that will explode public deficits.
But that’s where we are — focused on who pays for the mess. Wall Street excess and conservative deregulation (by law and lassitude) blew up the economy, causing the Great Recession. The bankers were bailed out. Working families took the hit from the downturn — in lost jobs, lost savings, weakened pensions, declining home values, pay and benefit cuts.
The recession blew a large hole in public finances at every level. Tax revenues plummeted. Expenses — from unemployment insurance to food stamps to public health — rose. Public pension funds suffered investment losses. States and localities face severe deficits with a mandate to balance their budgets. At the federal level, the recession doubled the national debt, and drove deficits up to 10% of GDP (much of this the result of plummeting tax receipts).
Now the question is who pays for the damage?
The Republican position is clear and consistent at every level of government. They want to send the bill to teachers, cops, seniors, kids, the poor and the vulnerable. From Governor Walker in Wisconsin to Governor Kasich in Ohio and across the country, Republican Governors and conservative legislators are pushing for deep cuts in education, jobs programs, and public health programs (particularly Medicaid). They are slashing spending while seeking in many cases to cut taxes for corporations and the affluent.
That’s true at the federal level as well. Republicans went to the mat to extend tax breaks for millionaires in December, and now are threatening to close down government to slash spending on education, jobs programs, energy and the environment, and public health for the remaining months of the FY 2011 budget. And for next year’s budget, they are girding themselves to take on the core insurance programs — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — that provide the most vulnerable Americans — seniors, the widowed, the disabled — with some modicum of security.
We aren’t buying what they are peddling
This agenda is immensely unpopular. Americans have rather clear and sensible ideas about how to cut the deficit. They want Social Security and Medicare protected. They oppose cuts in education. They don’t like tax hikes on families that are already suffering pay cuts. With the growing and extreme concentration of income and wealth, voters support tax hikes for the richest Americans, imposing a surcharge on incomes above a million dollars. With Wall Street’s casino wrecking ruin, they support taxes on bank profits, and a financial speculation or transaction tax to slow computer driven speculation. With the Pentagon spending about as much as the rest of the world combined spends on their militaries, they’d start with cuts in the defense budget, as well as subsidies for Big Oil and other corporate interests.
The more people become aware of the Republican agenda, the less they like it. In Wisconsin, Governor Walker hoped he could cram his legislation through a legislature under Republican control before people knew what hit them. But when workers mobilized, and Democratic Senators left the state, the voters got a chance to look at the Governor’s program — and his popularity plummeted. The same would surely be true of the public’s reaction to the cuts demanded by the House Republicans in Washington, were we ever to have a pitched battle over them.
Dismember the Opposition
That reality requires the second front in the conservative offensive: a frontal assault to weaken the ability of organized people to counter the power of organized money.
Doing the bidding of corporations, banks and the wealthy insures that conservatives will have well stocked campaign coffers and deep independent expenditure money pots that can fund air and ground wars in support of their actions. Citizens United, the ruling written by the conservative gang of 5 on the Supreme Court, opened the floodgates to corporate money. Its effect — like that of Reagan firing the Patco workers — was as much symbolic as substantive, making it clear to corporate CEOS that this was the moment to go all in.
But even the most sophisticated Orwellian ad and Astroturf campaigns have a hard time overcoming the opposition of organized people. So conservatives have set out systematically to weaken or destroy the opposition.
That’s why core worker rights are under assault in states across the country. This isn’t about balancing the budget; it is about weakening the ability of workers to resist. Unions are the most potent opponent of the conservative agenda. With private sector unions weakened by globalization and the all out corporate assault on them over the last three decades, public employee unions — teachers, cops, fire fighters, nurses — are the leading edge of the opposition, and the leading target of the new attack.
But it isn’t just unions. In states across the country, efforts are underway to strip students of their right to vote on their campuses, hoping to suppress the votes of the young. Various forms of requiring voter ID at the polling booth are being revived, seeking to depress the votes of seniors, minorities and the poor.
Studying Republicans or more aptly the modern extreme right-wing movement is a lesson in cultural anthropology. They’re like some ancient European tribe that has a set of very rigid dogmatic beliefs. No matter how much evidence is presented that the world is not flat or that voodoo supply-side economic does not work for the vast majority of Americans, they refuse to believe their lying eyes. The Bush tax cuts did not produce job growth for eight years. What did Republicans learn from that. We have to cut taxes some more. These same Republicans shipped American jobs to Asia. Corporate profits took a deep with the Great Recession, but now they are back to record levels. Republicans obviously are not embarrassed by having a horrible job creation record. All the evidence would seem to indicate the contrary. They can talk job creation all day, but they obviously don’t care about jobs or the unemployed. The current White House also seems to think that just extending unemployment insurance lets them off the hook. Republicans are not ashamed of giving children, the elderly, nurses and teachers the economic shaft. remember House majority leader John Boehner(R-OH) said that if slashing the federal budget meant the loss of jobs than so be it. The Republican governors of Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Florida have all decided that cutting taxes and weakening bargaining rights will perform some job magic. None of these far right-wing Republicans have created jobs. They have given corporations that are making record profits, more tax breaks. Even before these state tax breaks many corporations, making millions in profits paid little or no income taxes.
New Hampshire serves a good example of passing the buck for collapsing the economy, not to the people who caused it, but to the victims of conservative economic policies, New Hampshire House Approves Tax Cut On Cancer-Causing Cigarettes, Cuts Health And Education Funding
– Yesterday, The House’s powerful Finance Committee moved forward on legislation that would cause mass layoffs of physicians and nurses and result in more than 12,000 people, including 500 to 800 children, losing their health care coverage.
– Wednesday, the House approved a bill freezing funding for schools.
– Tuesday, lawmakers approved a bill that “removes compulsory school attendance for children.”
– The Republican-controlled Senate approved pension-reform legislation that increases health care costs and raises the retirement age for public workers.
– House members passed an amendment to the state Constitution “to bypass a Supreme Court decision ordering the state to pay for the cost of an adequate education for every public schoolchild.”
If you get the big picture, all the elements that go into making communities and the nation strong for the long-term, there is no cost benefit to society for not compelling children to attend school or slashing education budgets. This is Big Government conservatism in action. Given the opportunity, they will use their power to pander to the corporate welfare state at the expense of the working class. Tea nut conservatives, the conservatives who like to pretend they had nothing to do with causing the Great Recession, should be thrilled with the current economic trends. They will truly have an America of the late 1700s. A few landed aristocrats and the rest of the country mostly uneducated, and living hand to mouth.