Dr. Wilmer Leon: Over the Fiscal Cliff and Into the Social Abyss
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Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III
Last week House Majority Leader Boehner (R-OH) threatened America and tried to bully President Obama with his “Plan B” vote. He suspended negotiations and spent his time on the floor of the House slapping backs and twisting arms to get the necessary votes to pass his alternative plan. Boehner said that after his plan passes the House, “Then, the president will have a decision to make…He (the president) can call on Senate Democrats to pass that bill, or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in history.” Well, the “Plan B” vote failed. Boehner could not slap enough backs and twist enough arms; he could not control his caucus. We are closer now than ever to the fiscal cliff. The Emperor has no clothes.
So, here we are at the edge of the ledge peering over the fiscal cliff into the social abyss. After all of the hand wringing and arguments end this really comes down to conservatives being unwilling to ask those in the country who can afford to pay a little more to do so and cutting back on the defense budget in order to ensure that the working class, poor, and elderly in this country can continue to receive the support from their government that they deserve.
This is not a new argument. Conservatives have been opposed to social programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Food Stamps, and others since Roosevelt introduced the “social safety net” in the 1930’s. Conservatives are using the current fiscal crisis that started during the Bush 43 administration as the new pretext for their age-old argument. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has done a very poor job explaining this to the American people. They have allowed Conservatives to control the narrative by basing the discussion on what to save (tax breaks for the wealthy and he defense budget) instead of what not to cut (much needed social programs).
By allowing the debate to center around the Conservatives approach the Obama administration is forced to make concessions that extract more pain from those who can least afford it. According to FactCheck.org, “Geithner claimed that the president’s deficit reduction plan is about “strengthening Medicare, not shifting costs to seniors.” However, the president’s plan does shift some costs to seniors — mostly to higher-income beneficiaries, but also for all new beneficiaries.” Also, President Obama has conceded making changes to Social Security that do not need to be made. According to Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), “The people of this nation are depending upon us to be true to our word…I don’t know how many members ran on a promise not to cut Social Security. Now, without any hard proposal to raise taxes on the rich, some are using Social Security as a carrot to get a deal. We cannot, and we must not play with the lives of senior citizens.”
What Lewis failed to mention is the impact that changes in Social Security benefits will have on the African American community. According to the Social Security Administration, in 2010, the average annual Social Security income received by African American men 65 years and older was $13,617, compared to $11,064 for African American women. In 2010, among African Americans receiving Social Security, 28 percent of elderly married couples and 57 percent of unmarried elderly persons relied on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income. Cuts in these benefits and others will send too many Americans over the fiscal cliff and into the personal social abyss. According to Lewis, “Social Security is solvent. It is insurance citizens have paid into in good faith. They have honored their commitment, and the federal government should honor its commitment. We should not tolerate cuts to Social Security. It is a sacred trust that should not be violated, not a piggybank used to fix fiscal problems.”
According to Bread for the World, “We live in the world’s wealthiest nation. Yet 14.5 percent of U.S. households—nearly 49 million Americans, including 16.2 million children—struggle to put food on the table. In the United States, hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food, but rather the continued prevalence of poverty.” President Obama was sent back to Washington to fight for the programs to help those who need them the most not negotiate their demise.
Congressman Lewis was right, “Democrats have made concessions in these negotiations. We created $492 billion in Medicare savings, and in prior negotiations around the nation’s fiscal problems we offered another $300 billion in cuts. We have done our part. Why can’t Republicans do theirs?
So here we are at the edge of the ledge peering over the fiscal cliff into the social abyss. While Boehner, Cantor (R-VA), and others engage in political kabuki theater and argue about ideological BS that will only result in those who have the most getting more and those who need the most getting less, the poor are getting poorer and the hungry get “hungryer”.
© 2012 InfoWave Communications, LLC Dr. Wilmer Leon is a political scientist at Howard University and host of the nationally broadcast call in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon” on Sirius/XM channel 128. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or Dr. Leon’s Prescription @ Facebook.com or www.twitter.com/drwleon
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