As the war intensifies in Iraq, it’s business-as-usual for special interest campaign contributors in Washington. Powerful lobbies are banking on round-the-clock media attention overseas keeping us from noticing how ordinary people are being left out of key legislation at home. This is the first of a special three part series of OUCH! bulletins that we will send out over the next week illustrating how, while life is being changed for hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops and their families, and all of us hope and pray for a quick end to the war in Iraq, the influence-peddlers are working overtime in our nation’s capital.
Part I. The Budget
America’s troops, drawn largely from working families living in blue-collar cities like Kalamazoo, MI and Erie, PA, will face serious financial challenges when they eventually return home. In Washington, DC, President George W. Bush and Congress are dealing moderate- and low-income Americans blow after blow as they hammer out the details of the 2003 budget. Generous campaign contributors are being rewarded, while ordinary Americans, who can’t afford to give cash to politicians, are left out.
So far, the House of Representatives has passed $726 billion in tax cuts advocated by the president; while last week the Senate trimmed that number to $350 billion. Most observers expect the two bodies to compromise somewhere in the middle. Either way, the benefits will accrue mostly to the wealthy. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, “three-fifths of Bush’s proposed tax reductions for this year would go to the best-off 10 percent of all taxpayers.” While the average taxpayer would get a cut of $289, millionaires would get cuts of more than $30,000. By the end of the decade, CTJ reports, “more than half of the President’s proposed new tax reductions would go to the top one percent.”
To pay for these, there will be drastic cuts in Medicaid, education programs, and other social services. The House version of the budget will require $265 billion in spending cuts. Nearly two-thirds of these will likely come from social programs for families, children, and elderly and disabled people with low incomes, according to analysis by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Food stamps, school lunches, foster care and adoption assistance – all of these would be slashed. Indeed, the House budget actually cuts $14.6 billion in programs for veterans, “including money for disabilities caused by war wounds, rehabilitation and health care, pensions for low income veterans, education and housing benefits, and even -- nice touch -- burial benefits,” according to columnist Robert Kuttner.
With less than one-quarter of one percent of Americans giving appreciable campaign contributions, and more than 80 percent of donors earning more than $100,000 a year (not exactly the profile of an infantry soldier), these policies make it clear that politicians are rewarding the contributors and neglecting those who can’t.
It may seem bizarre that Washington should be pursuing a plan of reduced taxes, deep cuts in social services, and sundry other special interest wish lists, during war-time. But it’s a perfect illustration of how campaign contributors set the agenda in Washington, and how policy is skewed in their interest, even in a time of great national crisis.
If this makes you angry, go to www.howdarethey.org and tell your representatives in Congress and President George W. Bush that they should stop rewarding big campaign contributors and start passing legislation that helps working families. Most of all, tell them that you want them to change the campaign finance system so candidates aren’t dependent on wealthy contributors in the first place!