Massive protests in Wisconsin are entering their third week. In my opinion, unions are in a battle with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for the future of the middle class. On one hand, Governor Scott Walker states that the state of Wisconsin is broke. In order to get their fiscal house in order, they must balance the budget and cut the size of government. Among the budget-cutting proposals, and the most controversial, is Governor Walker’s proposal to end collective bargaining among public workers.
On the other side of this titanic argument sit the Wisconsin unions. The unions have unequivocally stated that they’re willing to take salary cuts but are not willing to give up their right to collective bargain. So the unions have met Governor Scott Walker more than halfway and yet we still have an impasse. Who’s right?
The governor claims that the great state of Wisconsin has a $137 billion shortfall. As it turns out, the governor passed an approximately $140 million tax giveaway to special interest groups. This should sound familiar. Republicans like to cut taxes but they don’t pay for themselves. The Bush tax cuts did not pay for themselves. Reagan’s tax cuts did not pay for themselves. Why should Governor Walker’s tax cuts pay for themselves? The real crime appears to lie in the fact that Governor Walker wants to pay for his tax cuts by asking workers to sacrifice more. As I’ve chronicled, time and time again, the middle class is been squeezed like never before. The middle class continues to face increasing expenses (utilities, housing and education costs) and stagnant or decreasing wages.
This is part of a conservative agenda which started decades ago. Conservatives use the government to enrich their friends (tax cuts to the rich). Conservatives have never liked unions because unions support, for the most part, Democrats. So, Governor Scott Walker is only following the conservative playbook, which advocates enriching your friends and punishing your enemies.
Wisconsin is simply a microcosm of what’s happening on the national level. Currently, the House Republicans are insisting on somewhere around a $60 billion budget cut because “America is broke.” I don’t understand. How is it that we can be broke when we just gave the rich tax cuts in December? These tax cuts were not paid for. How can we afford tax cuts when we’re broke? Remember that Republicans successfully argued that we were in the middle of a recession and increasing taxes would slow economic growth. Using the same logic, spending would spur economic growth. Then wouldn’t cutting $60 billion slow economic growth? Of course it will. (Slowing the economic recovery also has the side effect of making Democrats look ineffectual and therefore decreasing the chance of Obama’s reelection.) Government spending equals approximately 25% of our GDP. Economists estimate somewhere between 200,000 and 700,000 jobs will be lost by $60 billion in discretionary spending.
America is looking at a $1.25 trillion deficit. Republicans continually point to this number and hope that Americans will reel at its size. The conservatives want you to be flabbergasted. But when you look at the number in its proper context it is not as large as it seems. We are a country of over 300 million people. Therefore, if every man, woman and child forks over $4000, the budget deficit is solved. $4000. That’s it. Not $40,000 or $4 million, we are talking about $4000 per person to prevent cutting programs that help the poor, like the low-income heating energy assistance program (LIHEAP) and Head Start. If we just look at those tax cuts, which were passed in December, the average millionaire is reaping over $100,000 in tax cuts. If we just require those who have benefited the most from our stable economic environment to simply pay their fair share, we could fix the budget in no time.
Conservatives are using a ginned up “financial crisis” in order to push through their agenda, which is destroying unions and killing government spending on social programs. This is a full-blown attack on the American Way of Life. We should and must take to the streets like they are in Madison, Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Democratic Party has started a petition to recall eight of Wisconsin’s Senators in accordance with the Wisconsin Constitution. If the Democrats win three of these eight seats, the balance of power shifts in the Senate. This is direct democracy. This is the way that we take back our government from corporate special interests who have the undivided attention of our politicians.