The Bible’s injunction that we shall be judged by how we have treated the "least of these" (Matthew 25:40) appears in different forms in virtually every religion or faith. And surely the measure of a country is how it treats the most vulnerable of its people — children in the dawn of life, the poor in the valley of life, the ailing in the shadows of life, the elderly in the dusk of life.
Last week, the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on the Republican budget proposal put together by Rep. Paul Ryan, chair of the Budget Committee and Mitt Romney’s running mate. The vast majority of Republicans are lined up to vote for it, with possible exceptions for a handful who think it does not cut enough.
It is a breathtakingly mean and callous proposal. The Republican budget would cut taxes on the wealthy, giving millionaires, the Citizen for Tax Justice estimates, a tax break of $200,000 per year. (Ryan tells us only what tax rates he would lower, not the loopholes he would close to make his proposal revenue neutral. But CTJ shows that even if he closed every loophole, it wouldn’t make up for the revenue lost by lowering their top rate).
The Ryan plan would also extend tax breaks for multinationals, moving to make the entire world a tax haven. He would raise spending on the military by about $500 billion over the levels now projected over the next decade. Yet Republicans are pledged to balance the budget in 10 years. To achieve this, the Republican budget would turn Medicare into a voucher program (but only for those 55 and younger). He would repeal the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"). He would gut Medicaid, turning it into a block grant for states and cutting it by more than one-fourth by 2024.
The result, as estimated by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, would be to deprive 40 million low and moderate income Americans of health care insurance. The Republican budget also devastates domestic programs and investments, cutting them by one-third of their inflation adjusted levels over the decade, ending at an inconceivable one-half the levels of the Reagan years as a percentage of the economy. Infant nutrition, food subsidy, Head Start, investment in schools, Pell Grants for college, public housing, Meals on Wheels and home heating assistance for seniors or the confined all would suffer deep cuts.
The poorest children will suffer the worst cuts. The Republican budget also savages investments vital to our future — not just education, but research and development, renewable energy, modern infrastructure. This budget is scheduled to be voted on by the House of Representatives this week. It is expected to pass with a majority made up entirely of Republican votes. Speaker Boehner has lined up this vote, even as he refuses even to allow a vote on extending unemployment benefits and on raising the minimum wage. It is hard to see this as anything other than a declaration of class warfare by the few against the many.
Republicans declare the country is broke, against all evidence to the contrary. But they still want to cut taxes for the rich and corporations and hike spending on the military. So they lay waste to support for working and poor people. Ryan argues that cutting programs for the poor will set them free, removing a "hammock" and forcing them to stand on their own feet. That might be worth debating if jobs were plentiful, schools received equal support, housing was affordable and jobs paid a living wage. But none of this is true. In today’s conditions, with mass unemployment, savagely unequal schools, homeless families and poverty wage jobs, Ryan’s words simply ring false.
Needless to say, the wealthy and corporations reward Republicans for arguing their case. As the Koch brothers are showing, their campaigns will be lavishly supported; their opponents will face a barrage of attack ads. But most Americans are better than this. Majorities oppose these cruel priorities.
The question is whether those who vote for these harsh priorities are held accountable this fall in the elections. After decades of struggle, we all have the right to vote. The majority can speak if it chooses. It has to sort through annoying ads, poll-tested excuses and glib politicians. But we can decide we aren’t going to support politicians who protect the privileges of the few and vote to make the poor pay the price.