With default eight days away, last night Speaker Boehner laid out his priorities before the American public. To summarize: (1) preserve tax breaks for those at the top at all costs; (2) cater to the most extreme members of his caucus; and (3) stick it to the president. I may not have the order right, but these three come through loud and clear.
How to react? The president was right when he suggested that people should contact their Members of Congress. Congress needs to hear that ordinary Americans -- low- and middle-income alike -- should not lose jobs, health care, food and education while those at the top keep raking in tax breaks. At the Coalition on Human Needs, we respectfully suggest that if the usual ways of contacting Congress aren't satisfactory, you sing to them. With apologies to Rogers and Hammerstein, we have created a new version of "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top" that we call "Binge on Top." You need a break from contemplating economic chaos, so have a listen.
A little more on Speaker Boehner's priorities:
Preserve the top's tax breaks at all costs: When the president spoke last night, he pointed out that the refusal to agree to any sharing of the burden of deficit reduction by the rich means that cuts to programs that overwhelmingly help low- and moderate-income people have to be deeper. Pell grants are an interesting example. Because the recession has reduced families' incomes and made more students eligible (and more people are going back to school because they can't find work with their current skills), the cost of these college scholarships has grown. To Speaker Boehner and his caucus, this means the program is out of control and has to be cut. Now, you can end tax breaks for corporate meals and entertainment expense write-offs (estimated at $11 billion), and that would pay for keeping up with the increase in students eligible for Pell grants. For Speaker Boehner, it's no contest -- it's the students who must pay. Or take another example: House Republicans have proposed cuts in nutrition aid for poor infants, young children, and pregnant women (for FY 2012) and cuts in home energy assistance (in FY 2011) totaling $7 billion a year. A modest estimate of tax breaks for companies sheltering profits offshore is $7.4 billion. Again, no contest for Speaker Boehner: Save those tax breaks!
Catering to the most extreme: Speaker Boehner has acknowledged that failure to raise the debt ceiling would hurt the economy. And yet, he continues to entangle highly controversial and far-reaching proposals, such as a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget and rigid spending caps, in the negotiations around raising the debt ceiling. This is satisfying to extremists who believe that slashing government programs trumps every other consideration. For the rest of us, we're pushed uncomfortably close to the edge.
Sticking it to the president: Speaker Boehner borrows an idea from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and would make the president request two separate debt ceiling increases; the second one right around the election, and contingent on Congress passing a $1.8 trillion cut in mandatory spending cuts (expected to emphasize Medicare, Medicaid, and perhaps Social Security). Trying to fix blame on the president is more important than any concern about shoving the nation right up to the brink again.
So if you're sick of these priorities and want a real solution that doesn't involve hurting millions of vulnerable Americans while protecting the rich, sing out! Tell Congress you're tired of the "Binge on Top." Or for a more traditional mode of expression, send them an email.
"Binge on Top"
(sung to the tune of "Surrey With the Fringe on Top")
Crooks and dopes and sleaze start to scurry,
Corporate guys getting rich in a hurry,
Ethics rules are toothless and blurry,
It's a binge on top.
"Babies' food aid -- see how we cut it,
We don't care if the Delta is flooded,
Slash our taxes till we are glutted,
It's a binge on top.
"We'd rather cut aid to kids and the poor,
And health care is taking our main whacks,
We give students less so we can get more
By slashing the capital gains tax."
Right wing wants the government shrinkin'
Makes you wonder what they've been drinkin'
They would push us over the brink in a resounding flop
We should worry as they scurry to the binge on the top.
They'd cut Medicare and gut Medicaid,
They'd slash SNAP and fail education,
They jack up the tax breaks to millionaires paid,
While billing the rest of the nation.
Corp'rate VP's -- off they go slinking,
Special interest breaks start to stinking,
Banks and Pharma wine glasses clinking to the last drip drop,
We should worry as they hurry
in their coats that are furry
as the pols' favor-curry
they lay off cousin Murray --
Really worry as they hurry to the binge on the top.