Ryan's cuts hurt the poor and send yet more wealth upstream.
On a gorgeous spring day in Washington, D.C. last week, schoolchildren piled out of buses and onto the National Mall. They streamed into the Museum of Natural History, to explore its vast collections of everything from tiny trilobites to massive dinosaur skeletons.
The kids were having a ball, and their minds weren’t on the battles being waged in the Capitol at the business end of the mall. It’s good the kids weren’t paying attention to the fray. Better to spare them the reality that their futures are what’s really at stake in the modern-day civil war of ideology rumbling across the nation.
Kids of today will have it worse than any generation in the post-World War II era. Many of them will get lost in the shuffle, and society will be the worse for it. The budget agreement that finally emerged from the Capitol cuts Pell grants for higher education, mostly for poor kids. Combined with rising tuition costs in states like ours, these kids’ chances of ever stepping foot on a college campus except to sweep the floors continue to decline.
Government-funded health care is in the cross hairs. Just who will that hurt the most? Time and again, we hear one of the cruelest lines of all: “We already have government health care. It’s called the emergency room.” In other words, wait until your kid gets really sick, then go for urgent care and hope it’s not too late. Dental care? Forget it. What an exceptional national health care system we have, indeed.
In the midst of the din over the possible government shutdown here in the nation’s capital, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan unveiled his own budget plan. It’s ambitious, that’s for sure, embarking on social tinkering on a grand scale. Ryan and others forget one thing: Programs like Medicare emerged in the public sector because the private sector couldn’t or wouldn’t provide them. They were part of a war on poverty that forever improved the lives of millions of Americans.
Ryan is a slick customer, but his package lacks compassion. Maybe times are so bad we can’t have compassion for those who need help the most. I don’t know. I’m not as smart as those who do all the talking. But the street journalist in me says only a con man could argue that tax cuts for a privileged group and reduced services for those who need help the most add up to a good idea.
Numbers fly around like mad sparrows at times like this, but one analysis of Ryan’s $4 trillion in spending cuts calculates that two-thirds are to programs that serve low-income Americans. Does that sound fair?
Meanwhile, back in restive Wisconsin, in the wake of Governor Scott Walker’s divisive budget bill, school districts are preparing to lay off teachers, teacher aides and a variety of support staff. Here’s a prediction: The wealthiest school districts will fare just fine. Districts in the middle and poor districts on the edge will feel the pain. They will endure burgeoning class sizes and diminished opportunities for kids. Schools will cut foreign languages just when we need them the most to compete in a world economy. Arts and music will suffer. Education in general will decline. There is no way around this fact. Can anyone really say with a straight face that slashing educational opportunity is good for America?
OK, the economy is still in the tank. Yes, governments at all levels need to scale back, just as some of us citizens have done. But the claim bandied by some that we’re all tightening our belts is a whopper. Corporate profits have soared through much of this recession. Wealth continues to flow upstream in a massive redistribution of resources. Investment income is taxed much lower than the hard-earned dollars people make in private and public sector jobs. The richest among us have been granted tax cuts.
And what of the least among us? It is a question that came to mind on the National Mall. On the cusp of the Christian Holy Week, the words in Matthew 25:40 bear revisiting: “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.’”
April 17, 2011
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Bill Berry is a FightingBob.com contributing editor who lives in Stevens Point and writes columns for the Capital Times and other publications.