Back in the days when I used to be a legislative reporter for Mississippi’s NPR affiliate, I was covering a story where Gov. Haley Barbour refused to stop cuts to mental health programs and schools in Mississippi with money from the rainy day fund. My favorite Southern legislator, Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville, had this to say:
“There’s hay in the barn, but we’re not feeding the horses.”
Likewise in Washington, there’s plenty of money to avoid the $85 billion in sequester cuts that will be coming in March. Some of the worst cuts will be to programs like the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program, early childhood education, and federal funding for immunizations and vaccinations for children.
Congress would like to have us believe that there’s no money to pay for those programs, even though the Senate unanimously approved a $700 billion military budget in December on a 98-0 vote. And in the last ten years, we’ve spent almost $800 billion on “homeland security,” but there’s no help for hungry families who will be losing food assistance thanks to the sequester.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program has cost us approximately $400 billion to date, and was recently grounded indefinitely due to faulty construction. If it becomes operational, the program would have a whopping $1 trillion budget. Even John McCain has called the program a“scandal and a tragedy.”
But for some reason, we can’t find the money to keep federal meat inspectors employed, who will lose their jobs after the sequester cuts take hold in March. And even though “Too Big to Fail” banks are still getting their $83 billion annual subsidy, there’s somehow not enough money to keep federal air traffic controllers employed when the FAA is forced to absorb $600 million in cuts from the sequester.
Corporate tax loopholes bleed out at least $100 billion a year in lost revenue, and simply closing them would be more than enough to offset the sequester. A 1% sales tax on all Wall Street transactions, like the kind introduced in new legislation by Rep. Peter DeFazio andSen. Bernie Sanders, would generate at least $100 billion in new revenue every year.
Cutting our military budget in half, from approximately $700 billion to $350 billion, would provide plenty of tax dollars to pay for job creation and social safety nets, which would reduce the deficit by default and still mean the U.S. is #1 in global military spending. Given all of these options, none of us should believe our congressmen for a second when they try to sell us the lie that our country is broke.
Austerity economics have never improved an economy in history, ever. We were recovering from the Great Depression until FDR took the advice of neoliberal economists and focused his efforts on cutting deficits instead of creating jobs, which led to the recession of 1937. Austerity in Greece and Spain has caused unemployment levels to skyrocket, and their economies to sink further into depression.
Austerity in the United States won’t have any effect on the economy, except cost us more tax dollars as more unemployed people are forced to depend on the shrinking safety net for survival. The sequester is simply more proof that our government is putting bank bailouts, military contracts and corporate tax loopholes above the needs of their constituents. And it will only get worse until we throw them out.