Monday, November 4, 2013

Pigs & Priorities

While the Democratic-led Senate remains in session this week in Washington, it should surprise no one that the Republican-led House is effectively on vacation once again. In theory, House members are "working from their districts," though these days that often means hiding from angry constituents while dashing from one fundraiser to the next for their umpteenth re-election campaign. The entire time, of course, these members of Congress are collecting their annual salary of $174,000, along with all of their benefits.

When you contrast that kind of Congressional largess with the effects of the food stamp cuts now reverberating around the country, our members of Congress - especially those in the House of Representatives - look like selfish, overgrown pigs, metaphorically speaking. Frankly, far too many of them look that way in real life, too.

The truth is, when House members do finally get their overfed behinds back to Washington to eke out a bit of work, no one should be talking about cutting safety net programs, cutting federal retiree benefits, attacking workers, or permanently cutting the budget. The discussion should be about investment - both in American infrastructure and growth, as well as in American workers.

In short, it's time America's fat corporations and overfed rich started paying far more than they have during the last 30 years, thanks to Republican-led austerity charades. At least, that's how a growing number of relatively conservative billionaire businesspeople see it - and they'd be the ones paying more.

While Warren Buffett has long said America's wealthiest should pay more, many have foolishly written him off on that point. Last week billionaire investor Bill Gross of PIMCO made it clear he agrees with Buffet, in an essay he wrote for his company's website. Gross specifically said, "If you’re in the privileged 1%, you should be paddling right alongside [working class Americans] and willing to support higher taxes…The era of taxing 'capital' at lower rates than 'labor' should end."

That point hit home over the weekend in an article from the Financial Times that pointed out U.S. public investment has now fallen to its lowest level since the end of World War II. The economists and sources cited in that report - including Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former head of the CBO under President George W. Bush - made clear what the data they see is saying. America is now in massive danger of long-term economic damage without heavy investment in areas like high-speed internet, improved and repaired waste-water treatment systems, 'green' and next-generation power generation, and repair of bridges and roads. That investment must come through increased revenue.

Even that bastion of anti-worker sentiment Wal-Mart has now admitted: America has gone too far in cutting and gutting. As Lydia Depillis of the Washington Post's Wonkblog noted this weekend, Wal-Mart is pressuring its American suppliers to bring manufacturing for Wal-Mart customers back home. With rising labor costs overseas, America's gas and oil boom, and the current risk of global supply chains, even if American companies have to pay more to American workers, the cost of production in the US is now barely more expensive than it is in China.

It should be noted the faction of the GOP that has driven many of the anti-worker policies that have affected American politics since the Reagan era has adopted the "Tea Party" name. Behind their many masks over the last 30-plus years lies the same arrogant, ignorant, "me first, screw you" pigs they've always been. Except, of course, now they're in Congress.

The fat that Americans should really be cutting in the next few elections should be those political hogs who continue to favor budget cuts to programs for the working poor over investment in our nation.