What About Shared Sacrifice?
High unemployment, record poverty, and widespread economic insecurity should force political dialogue into the realm of pragmatism rather than ideology. This means both sides of the aisle should be willing to move away from polarizing ideology to get things accomplished on behalf of the people who elected them.
President Obama on Monday evening, announcing he had compromised with Republicans on tax cuts and unemployment, said he did so because at this time it would be unconscionable to allow workers struggling to find jobs to do without the lifeline that is unemployment insurance.
We appreciate the president's willingness to compromise on behalf of 15 million struggling people looking for work. The measure extends unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed for the next 13 months. We also strongly support other provisions that benefit vulnerable families, including extending child tax credit provisions originally in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
However, it is deeply troubling and regrettable that some lawmakers refused to renew unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed until the president agreed to extend tax cuts for the top 2 percent of households - households that for the last three decades have continually gained an increased, concentrated share of the nation's wealth. Without the tax-cut extension, federal tax rates for the wealthy would return to the levels of the economically prosperous 1990s.
The bill also allows individuals to leave $5 million to their heirs without paying any taxes. This position is particularly disheartening at a time when the nation is running unsustainable record deficits. The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform last week released recommendations on policies the nation should pursue to reduce the nation's deficits, and it called for shared sacrifice. But the dogged pursuit of these tax cuts on behalf of the elite few raises questions about just who policymakers think should be making sacrifices.
During this time of high unemployment, rising poverty and overall contraction in quality of life for low- and middle-income people, it is clear who has already sacrificed. If the wealthiest Americans had sacrificed their tax cut, we could have financed the TANF Emergency Fund to provide 250,000 jobs, replaced the cut in SNAP (Food Stamps) to help pay for the Child Nutrition legislation, paid for child care and Head Start for 300,000 children, and ensured that Pell Grants continue to be available to middle and low-income families who need help paying for college.
For the greater part of the last Century, the nation had a stable middle class, which meant stronger families, better outcomes for children and stronger fiscal health for the nation. We should pursue policies that embody the fundamental principal that the entire nation is better off when we have a stable middle class and opportunities for people to exit poverty and become middle class.
And if the nation truly is going to get serious about restoring jobs, the economy and reducing deficits, we can't afford to continuously delay conversations about our policy priorities and what it will take to restore the federal government to good health.