When told that Republican spending cuts could eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs at a time when 25 million people are already in need of full-time work, House Speaker John Boehner said, “So be it.”
This weekend, Boehner stated that it was simply “immoral” to leave deep debts to our children. That certainly is true. But Republicans in the House and governors under pressure across the country are planning deep cuts in areas that are vital to children — in pre-K programs like Head Start, in infant nutrition, in health care, in funding for schools and teachers and in support for college. They are making these cuts after extending tax cuts to the richest 1 percent of Americans, who already capture 23 percent of the nation’s income. It is unwise to talk about immorality when children are the leading victims of “so be it economics.”
The demonstrations in Wisconsin — where the governor hopes to use the crisis as an excuse to destroy unions and effectively eliminate the right to bargain collectively — have exposed the political aims of conservative Republican governors. But too little attention is being paid to who is being asked to sacrifice as we struggle to get out of the worst recession since the Great Depression.
According to the Center on Budget and Priorities, of the 41 states that have released their initial budget proposals for next year — covering 83 percent of the nation’s population, nearly all propose to spend less money than they spent in 2008, after adjusting for inflation, even though the cost of providing services is much higher. There will be more children in public schools, more students seeking admission to colleges and universities, more Medicaid enrollees, more people dependent on public health programs.
The majority of states are planning major cuts in basic public services. We’re not talking fat here; we are talking bone and muscle and tendons. Sixteen states propose deep cuts in pre-K, grade school and high school spending. The Texas budget, for example, will eliminate pre-K funding for nearly 100,000 at risk children, more than 40 percent of the state’s pre-K students. Twenty-three states have proposed deep cuts in health care. Ensconced in the Wisconsin governor’s budget is a plan to cancel health insurance coverage for about 70,000 people. Fifteen states will make big cuts in higher education. Arizona will cut state support by 20 percent next year; when combined with previous cuts, it would reduce per student state spending by 46 percent below pre-recession levels.
Yet many of the new Republican governors are also proposing large tax cuts, mostly for corporations. Florida’s new governor wants to cut the corporate income tax by 45 percent and eliminate it by 2018. New Jersey’s newly fashionable conservative governor proposes to cut the minimum tax paid by corporations by 25 percent and increase the amount that can be bequeathed tax-free to heirs.
The cuts will have brutal effects on the economy. Last year, state and local governments lost 400,000 jobs — and that was when the states still had support from the Obama recovery plan. This year, the cuts will be worse. These are cops, teachers, firefighters, judges and clerks, basic social services. Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street bank, estimates that the cuts voted on by Republicans could slice growth in half, to levels that don’t keep up with people going into the job market. Veterans returning from battlegrounds overseas are headed into an economic battleground here at home that offers them few jobs and little hope.
We’ve all seen times when managers mess up and workers pay the penalty. Now, global banks and corporations blew up the economy, and children, cops and teachers are being asked to pay the price. This is a time to mobilize. “So be it” doesn’t get it.