Tighten your belts, oh ye un-wealthy!
There's one really good question that, I think, seems to get lost entirely in the current national debate about how to best address the recession.
Why is it that the first people (and sometimes the only people) asked by politicians to "tighten their belts" for the good of the country are those who are already down to the last notch in said belt?
Low and middle income workers, small businesses, union and state employees -- these are the folks continually forced to cut back, sacrifice, be thrifty. And yet they are the ones who can least afford to do so.
It's a tale as old as time, though. I'd be nave if I said I didn't understand how this tactic has been gotten away with for so long, or that this sort of class warfare (one-sided though it usually is) hasn't been how things have been done since the founding of our country. Too often the wealthiest members of society are willing to fight like hell to hold onto every last cent they have, even at the expense of the overall good and long-term stability of their own communities.
And that's exactly what incoming Governor Scott Walker and most of the Republican legislators in this state are looking to do -- for themselves and for their big donors -- with their calls for a "right to work" (i.e. anti-union) law, cutting state worker hours and jobs, killing high-speed rail, fighting the federal health care bill, and just about everything else they're planning.
President Obama has even been guilty of this misdirection. His administration recently announced a freeze in pay for federal workers, a move that would save a trifling $5 billion over the next two years -- toward our whopping $1.3 trillion budget shortfall. And, as economist Paul Krugmen noted in an editorial lambasting the plan:
The truth is that America's long-run deficit problem has nothing at all to do with overpaid federal workers. For one thing, those workers aren't overpaid. Federal salaries are, on average, somewhat less than those of private-sector workers with equivalent qualifications.
And, anyway, employee pay is only a small fraction of federal expenses; even cutting the payroll in half would reduce total spending less than 3 per cent.
Obama also caved to Republican hostage taking of the American people, agreeing to extend Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of citizens in trade for an extension of much-needed unemployment benefits. Had he allowed the cuts to expire (like he promised in his campaign) it would have saved $700 billion that will instead be added to the nation's deficit.
And Republicans claim to be deficit hawks. Apparently that only applies when it comes to the constricting belts of those making less than a quarter million a year.
Here in Wisconsin, Walker has similar designs on the people less able to scratch his back. Despite his rhetoric about supporting small businesses and job creation, one of Walker's first moves upon election (and even before swearing in!) was to call for the death of a passenger rail line that would have connected Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago -- along with several smaller communities along the way.
That decision means the loss of an estimated 13,000 jobs that would have been created by the line -- public, private, construction, operation, and those from businesses that spring up around it. It means the inevitable loss of the new Talgo train manufacturing plant in Milwaukee, which, despite Walker's pleas for them to stay even though he's killing the state's order for cars built by them, would have little to no reason to stick around.
It also means the premature death of those start-ups that might have found success near the rail line serving passengers, like Chris Berge's planned Velo Bahn restaurant in Madison, now officially DOA.
So much for caring about small businesses.
And what of that $800 million in federal funds Wisconsin had fought for and won (under the Doyle administration) for high-speed rail? Walker kept telling his supporters that he'd reallocate it toward road and bridge construction, but that was never an actual possibility. Now it looks certain that the government will be taking that money and giving it to rail-related projects in states that, y'know, actually want it.
The promise of better connecting our state and building infrastructure that was beneficial for our economic and environmental future sure was fun while it lasted, eh?
Mass transit is for gross working class people, though! And Walker got a serious chunk of change from the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, road builders who don't appear to be so keen on the idea of competition from trains.
Walker's also gung-ho to support Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's misguided desire to join a lawsuit opposing the new federal health care law. If the overhaul were to be successfully killed by Van Hollen and his fellow GOP AGs, it's projected to add billions of dollars more to the deficit.
Why anyone expected anything different from him is a mystery to me (cough Milwaukee Journal Sentinel cough).
There's a rotten cherry on top of this greed-based sundae, too:
Republican Gov.-elect Scott Walker plans to give any excess money raised for his inauguration to his campaign fund and the state Republican Party -- instead of to charity -- in a move that drew ridicule Wednesday.
Outgoing Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle donated all the extra money raised for his two inaugurations to the nonprofit Boys and Girls Clubs, and the state Democratic Party said Walker's decision was especially selfish considering the economy.
But Walker's spokeswoman, Jill Bader, said the incoming governor wants the organization of his inauguration to be "fully transparent" and require that donations be reported the Government Accountability Board.
Bader touting full transparency is especially funny, considering that it looks very much like she may have committed voter fraud by casting a ballot in Wisconsin this year.
It's all par for the course with those people too connected to power and money and too disconnected from the realities of the majority of the country, though -- Republicans and Democrats alike.
If Obama continues to cave to the costly demands of the Republicans in Washington, and Walker sees through his plans to steamroll over the well-being of Wisconsin, it's up to the citizens and the few decent politicians left to express some serious outrage. And to stop voting these kleptocrats into power!