By Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr.
With the release of the proposed Republican budget cuts for this year on Friday and the president’s proposed 2012 budget on Monday, we’re witnessing a slow-motion St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The contrast between December and February is astounding.
In December, we had the winter indulgence for the affluent, with bipartisan agreement to extend tax breaks for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans at the cost of some $40 billion each year.
It’s not like they needed the money. The wealthiest 1 percent now capture nearly one-fourth of all the income in the society. They pocketed over one-third of the benefits from the Bush tax cuts. They now have as much wealth as 90 percent of Americans.
In February, we get austerity for the middle class and the poor. Republicans propose deep cuts in the already threadbare safety net we provide for poor families and communities. Impoverished women and children will suffer cuts in food and support. Impoverished communities will lose federal block grants. Poor schools will lose teachers and support. Good students from low-income families will find their already inadequate Pell grants cut by $800 a year, even as tuitions soar. AmericaCorps’ support for nonprofits will be eliminated, and the jobs lost. Many more of the vulnerable will face a hard landing if these cuts are imposed.
The president’s budget addresses next year — but it, too, would cut community block grants and roll back home-heating assistance for low-income earners and the elderly. The president at least makes the case for investing in infrastructure, in education and training and in research and development. Republicans scorn that as just more spending we can’t afford. But we can afford, at the same time, tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.
We can afford to tax wealth at lower rates than we tax work, ensuring that the richest Americans, as Warren Buffett has pointed out, pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. We can afford to spend as much money on our military as the rest of the world combined, and squander more than a $100 billion a year on an endless war in support of a corrupt ally in Afghanistan, even as Republicans would savage foreign assistance for health and food and development.
The Bible tells us: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Tax cuts for the very wealthy are extended, while programs for working and poor people are ended. Our military budget is going up under both Republican and Democratic presidential budgets, while social provision is being cut. Budgets are a statement of values.
Dr. King, watching the war on poverty get lost in the jungles of Vietnam, warned we were verging on “spiritual death,” and began organizing a poor people’s campaign. After witnessing December’s indulgence and February’s St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, it is time to start organizing again.
What we have is prosperity for the most able and austerity for the least able. We are reminded by Dr. King that, while he is honored with celebrations and holidays, the budget is a moral document that defines our national character.