Affordable Government vs. Affordable Health Care

By Dave Palmer

Congress is approaching its summer recess, and according to MSNBC, a grand bargain over ending sequestration and creating a budget for the next fiscal year appears unlikely. Democrats are unlikely to agree to cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and other so-called entitlement programs given the Republican’s unwillingness to raise taxes. Meanwhile Republicans are torn between a faction of Senators led by Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, among other Senate Republicans who want to defund the Affordable Care Act  (popularly known as Obamacare) and those who see that move as a mistake.

House Republicans seem determined to raise defense spending while cutting non-defense programs to the point that their funding would not change from sequestration level. House Democrats want the sequester to end, noting that 300,000 to 1.6 million jobs could be added with the end of sequestration, but are again stymied by a refusal to increase taxes.

It is painfully obvious at this point that the 113th Congress is going to be just as ineffective as the 112th. Neither side has really come to govern, seeming content to just punch the clock and collect their paychecks. Every once and a while, a relatively meaningless bill will pass, but necessary spending bills that have historically had broad bi-partisan support are killed before a vote can be taken.

Thanks to Congressional gridlock, we got sequestration, a refusal to pass a farm bill, refusal to fund repairs to our crumbling infrastructure, and any bill that has the word “jobs” written into it anywhere almost immediately tabled. However, Senate Republicans are finding plenty of time to filibuster almost every Presidential appointee no matter how vital their post to government operation, while House Republicans have managed to fit in 38 different “symbolic” votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and a vote on raising their pay.

Now, our entire government is on the brink of once again being held hostage with a ransom of cutting domestic programs, increasing defense funding (which is not necessary considering we are supposed to be winding down the Afghanistan war) and completely defunding a program that is already helping individuals and employers save money on health insurance. Anything but making sure that corporations and the 1% of the 1% pay their fair share of taxes. Anything but eliminating loopholes in the tax code that allows companies to get tax breaks for sending  jobs overseas and raising tariffs on goods imported from countries whose workers are paid 19 cents an hour.

No, we wouldn’t want anything quite as progressive as making sure that our government stays well-funded, solvent, and able to collect all of the money it is supposed to collect.

Instead, it would seem that Republicans want nothing more than to slow down the nation’s economy, ensure little to no job growth occurs, and make sure that a person with Type-1 diabetes can be rejected for health insurance on the basis of their “pre-existing condition.” Oh yeah, and they want to be able to gerrymander their congressional districts as they see fit so they can hang on to the power to hobble our government indefinitely while not having to fear losing an election due to their reactionary ideology.

The good news in all of this is that Senators and Representatives alike will be coming home. They won’t be distracted by either creating or fighting obstruction, so they’ll have plenty of time to get an earful from their constituents.

And an earful is precisely what we should give them. If Congress goes on recess at the end of this week without at least laying inroads to create a budget deal by October 1st, call, email, and snail mail all of them and say that you’re fed up with political brinkmanship and that you expect better things from someone who is getting paid six figures a year by tax-dollars deducted from our hard-earned paychecks. Tell them you want to be able to afford a home, a car, food, and healthcare without breaking the bank while holding down a job that pays a living wage.

Shared Sacrifice Means Everyone (Society’s Slideshow)

Recent economic times have caused governments and private entities alike to call upon their employees to participate in “shared sacrifice.” They wave a fist full of jobs over the heads of the general public and say “If employees of (fill in governmental or private agency) don’t agree to a 10% pay cut, reduction of their pension, and agree to pay more of their personal health care costs, this fist will be opened and all the jobs held in this fist will be gone.”

“Shared sacrifice” is merely political and corporate code for “everyone except for me.” The common joke among liberals goes like this:

Q: When is a tax increase not a tax increase?

A: When a Republican calls it “belt tightening” or “shared sacrifice.”

Now that I’ve sufficiently irked conservatives across the board and caused them to shift their attention from this article’s real message, I’ll continue writing for those who have a more objective mind.

Politicians (liberals and conservatives alike) are big fans of trumpeting the many millions of dollars they would be able to save if only their workers would take a pay cut. Similarly, corporations trumpet the number of jobs they would be able to retain due to similar cost savings for everyone taking a pay cut.

My question to them is: Why aren’t you willing to take a 10% pay cut?

The typical answer is: “I might not be able to make my car payment (referring to their Mercedes S-Class), or “I might have to cut my HBO and Cinemax packages.”

Sure that sounds a bit luxurious to a middle class worker who in taking a 10% pay cut might not be able to make their car payment (which is a used 2006 Saturn) or may have to cut the cable completely. However, the very same middle class person may be talking to someone who is facing a 10% pay cut who can’t even afford a television or a telephone, much less think about what they might have to cut to make all the ends meet.

The moral of this story is that if the bigwigs want us regular people to take a 10% pay cut, they should consider cutting their inflated salaries by 10% as well.

For example, if Alan Mulally proposed a 10% pay cut for himself alongside his workers, he would be contributing $2.6 million out of his $26 million salary toward whatever financial woes Ford might have incurred to cause him to propose his workers take a pay cut.

Similarly, if Dave Bing wants Detroit workers to cut their pay, he should cut his six-figure salary by 10% to realize additional savings. He should also call upon all members of city government to engage in the “shared sacrifice” and cut their pay by 10%.

No one in this world can ever have enough money. The grass is always greener somewhere else, and it always seems like someone is doing a little better than you. These are facts and beliefs that society hasn’t been able to face. Everyone wants a little bit more than what they have.

However, to require others to participate in “shared sacrifice” without sharing in the sacrifice yourself is completely indefensible. Just because someone negotiated a contract in good faith and signed it without completely understanding the full future ramifications of the act doesn’t give you legal grounds to tear it up and claim a mulligan. That will do nothing but tick off a whole lot of people who will perhaps occupy your downtown area.

The problem society is running into is one that very few people saw coming from its beginning until perhaps 10 or 20 years ago: The Baby Boom.

Many of the boomers have either retired or are getting ready to retire. They are all demanding their benefits a system that never could have predicted the effect of a whole mess of babies being born within about a decade or so of each other. According to the agreements they entered, they are still entitled to their pensions, retirement funds, and Social Security.

That of course leaves the rest of society to wonder what to do next. The boomers aren’t going away any time soon, and politicians need to find a way out of the mess they have created for themselves.

They could start requiring all American corporations to pay their taxes in full. The problem with that is the fist full of jobs they always wave over the heads of our leaders claiming that they will have no choice but to lay (insert number in the thousands here) people off in order to balance the books. What the books show that politicians ignore is that they are investing almost every penny of their profits back into the company to show little to no profit for a given period.

They could start taxing those who make over a million dollars a year, but that’s less than 1% of the population. The 1% actually starts somewhere around the $350,000 per year mark. (The President of the United States would fall into that category.)

A more likely solution would be to ask all the major banks to took part in the $800 billion bailout to start paying their loans back, with interest of course. That could lead us back to the fist full of jobs again, though.

There are no easy solutions for the financial mess our country, our states, and our cities are in. They have negotiated contracts in good faith that they now cannot sustain because of declining property values, stagnating wages, and a decline in our nation’s industrial capacity, all thanks to the irresponsible behavior of a few people who wanted to get really rich really fast. Perhaps those are the people we should be asking to share in the sacrifice.