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The Budget Tsunami

Commentary
December 23, 2005By Chuck Sheketoff

Last year at this time, the tsunami in the Indian Ocean showed the world that the poor across the globe are vulnerable. The recent floods in New Orleans showed the world that the poor are vulnerable even here in the US.

As 2005 ends and 2006 begins, unfortunately it appears that it is not just natural disasters that are drowning and threatening the poor.

For instance, as they prepared to take their holiday vacation, the US House and Senate passed budget bills that should shock the conscience.

Their decision to strip health care, job placement, child care, child support, foster care and student loans from increasing numbers of Americans struggling to overcome poverty is under the guise of reducing the country’s disastrous deficit.

As you begin the new year, be prepared for the second wave to hit. Congress will return from their holiday break and likely will take up the other component of their misnamed deficit reduction effort – extending tax cuts for the nation’s wealthiest citizens. After balancing the so-called deficit reduction budget on the backs of the nation’s poor, the House and Senate plan to get back to work in 2006 doling out tax breaks for the most affluent Americans that will make our deficit grow even larger.

What will happen when we have larger deficits caused by the big tax cuts that will not benefit most Americans? A budget tsunami. When faced with the deepening fiscal crisis that the tax cuts will create, Congress will consider deeper cuts into more of the services that help Americans maintain jobs, get the health care they need, acquire an education, have clean water and clean air, and – especially important in winters such as this – heat their homes. The list of threatened public programs that serve Americans each day gets longer when Congress fails to balance the budget.

Oregon’s U.S. Senator Gordon Smith fought the cuts to Medicaid – the successful federal and state government program that provides health care to the poor, the aged, and the disabled – and lost. While he did not waver in his support for the poor, Smith was out-gunned by the Bush Administration. They flew Dick Cheney back from Iraq to break the tie and ensure passage of this manifestly unfair bill.

With our two US Senators, Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith, on the powerful tax law writing Senate Finance Committee, in 2006 Oregon will again be a key battleground in a significant public policy debate about whether to extend budget busting tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthiest among us.

When they toured Oregon in mid-2005 doing joint town meetings, constituents inevitably asked the two Senators their position on extending the tax cuts. Wyden was clear that he was against extending the tax cuts. Smith, on the other hand, would say that he supported the make-the-deficit-worse-while-lining-the-pockets-of-the-nation’s
-wealthiest cuts and would quip something along the lines of “when we agree on an issue everyone’s happy and when we disagree we are representing all of Oregon.”

The problem is, of course, that no one in Oregon thinks we ought to make our federal deficit worse or increase the pressure for more cuts to education, health care, and other public services that Oregonians rely upon. In other words, Smith has a nice line to diffuse the tension at a bi-partisan, Kumbaya town meeting, but he fails to address the issue he will face when he returns from the holiday break.

Next year at this time I hope to be able to look back on the year and chalk it up as a year that all of Oregon’s elected officials truly represented all of Oregon in Washington, DC. That will happen if they vote against fiscally irresponsible tax cuts, and thereby protect the health care, education, child care, job training and other public programs that support Oregonians - and help us all keep our heads above water.


Charles Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy, which uses research and analysis to advance policies and practices that improve the economic and social opportunities of all Oregonians. He can be reached at csheketoff(at)ocpp.org, at P.O. Box 7, Silverton, OR 97381, or by phone at 503-873-1201.

Posted in Health Care.

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