Friday, May 11, 2012

The Human Costs of Ideology in the U.S. (and in Canada)

Editorial, New York Times, May 10, 2012
For more than a year, House Republicans have energetically worked to demolish vital social programs that have made this country both stronger and fairer over the last half-century. At the same time, they have insisted on preserving bloated military spending and unjustifiably low tax rates for the rich. That effort reached a nadir on Thursday when the House voted to prevent $55 billion in automatic cuts imposed on the Pentagon as part of last year’s debt-ceiling deal, choosing instead to make all those cuts, and much more, from domestic programs.

If this bill were enacted, estimates suggest that nearly two million Americans would lose food stamps and 44 million others would find them reduced. The bill would eliminate a program that allows disabled older people to live at home and out of institutions. It cuts money that helps low-income families buy health insurance. At the same time, the House bill actually adds more than $8 billion to the Pentagon budget.
In all, the bill would cut $310 billion from domestic programs; a third of that comes out of programs that serve low- and moderate-income people. Other provisions would slash by half the budget of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was set up after the financial meltdown to protect consumers from predatory lending and other abuses, and reduce the pay of federal workers.
Fortunately, it will never be taken up in the Senate, where the majority leader, Harry Reid, has said it would “shred the social safety net in order to protect tax breaks for the rich and inflate defense spending.”
House Republicans are already claiming that this bill, along with the equally inhumane overall 2013 budget written by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, shows their seriousness in reducing the deficit and why they should keep control of the House in November. In fact, it does the opposite on both accounts — and serves as a reminder of their destructive priorities.
As a resolution to the debt-ceiling crisis, Republicans had already agreed to $109 billion a year in automatic spending cuts — half from defense, half from the domestic side — if lawmakers failed to agree to lower the deficit in more reasonable ways such as mixing targeted cuts with tax increases on the rich. Even Democrats who supported big defense cuts wanted them chosen carefully, not with the sequester’s cleaver. But Republicans refused to take that path when the supercommittee deliberated and now are trying to make all of the cuts on the domestic side.
In just one particularly destructive example, the bill would eliminate the social services block grant, a $1.7 billion fund that is given to the states to help people struggling the hardest. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the fund provides services to 23 million people, including Meals on Wheels and other programs that help older Americans. It also helps pay for child care assistance, foster care and juvenile justice at a time when states are cutting back these programs.
House Democrats offered an alternative bill that would replace the $109 billion sequester by raising taxes on the wealthy, ending oil company tax loopholes and cutting farm subsidies, but it was rejected. Republicans are determined to protect millionaires and defense contractors, no matter the costs to the country.
And in Canada, with an omnibus bill of some 400 pages, dubiously entitled the "Budget," the Harper government seeks to gut the environmental assessment review process, the food inspection agency, the fisheries oversight agency, the Auditor General's department, services to Canadians in Parks Canada, the terms under which Canadians receive Employment Insurance and many other "ideologically motivated" measures too hidden to permit parliamentary debate, and thereby unlikely to even become known to Canadians until it is too late, and the bill has passed both houses of parliament. There is also a fundamental resistance to higher taxes on the wealthy "patrons" of both Republicans in the U.S. and Conservatives in Canada. Are these two groups playing from the same play-book? Of course!
Here is one critical observation from a reliable and credible source:
Some aspects of the Conservatives’ budget bill, such as the effective dismantling of the federal environmental assessment process, were expected. Others, such as the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act, arguably Canada’s most important federal environmental-protection statute, go much further than even critics anticipated. The proposed amendments may represent the most serious retrenchment of federal environmental legislation in Canada’s history (Bill Revamps Ministers’ Environment Role – May 10).

The government’s strategy is almost certain to be self-defeating in the long term, although not without serious short-term costs. Stripping the environmental assessment process of any meaningful content and therefore legitimacy doesn’t mean underlying conflicts over the future of resource development, environmental sustainability and aboriginal and treaty rights will go away.
Nor is it likely to help Canada access export markets for its natural resources. Deep concerns exist in the U.S. and EU about environmental costs associated with Canada’s resource exports. Even China expressed dismay at Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. The federal government’s approach will do nothing but reinforce these concerns.
Mark S. Winfield, associate professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University from Letters to the Editor, Globe and Mail, May 10, 2012
Ideology, from Republicans in the U.S. and from the Canadian government, directed at making government smaller, less accountable, and more dictatorial, in order to further their ideological goals, serves neither the people of either country, nor, in the long run, the political aspirations of those promoting the ideology. We can only hope and trust that the people can and will see the kind of regressive legislation being proposed on both sides of the 49th parallel, and reject both the Republicans and the Conservatives at the earliest opportunity.
Unfortunately, both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. are loathe to cut the Pentagon budget by 10%, cuts that were to be imposed as a result of Congress' failure to agree to negotiated spending cuts. Military spending cannot and must not trump human services in either country, and, with the U.S. announcement that it is not going to purchase the F-35 Fighter Jets, one wonders how long it will be before Canada reaches the same decision.

No comments:

Post a Comment