U.S. braces: next cuts are the deepest
Protesters rally during a protest to oppose the health care reform 'Obamacare' on March 20, 2010 at the West Lawn of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. The rally was sponsored by over two dozen grassroots Tea Party organizations. (David Rogowski/MCT)
First came the poison pill, then the fiscal cliff.
Now the U.S. is on a skateboard to “econageddon,” the automatic and indiscriminate budget cuts that President Barack Obama warns will rip through the states and the faltering American economy.
The cuts will total $85 billion, starting Friday and continuing for the next seven months: the beginning of a $1.2 trillion spending shrink over a decade. Opponents say they could cost 750,000 jobs and reverse the effects of the taxpayer-funded stimulus package passed to battle the 2008 economic meltdown.
This at a time when Washington is casting a nervous eye at Europe’s breathtaking unemployment, sinking economies and double-dip recessions that resulted from agonizing austerity cuts.
The Republican party, however, is fighting its own internal battle, between traditional moderates who favour compromise and Tea Party musketeers who have taken command – in spite of the slap they took from the public at the last election.
Republican leaders in Congress buried any hope of a last-minute deal on Friday, saying they rejected any new taxes. (But mercifully, left out “read my lips.”)
So why does this hand-on-heart patriotic party put the boots to a country already laid low by lost homes, jobs, livelihoods and futures?
In a word, says Robert Reich, “federalism:” a movement for less federal and more state control.
Reich, a tireless liberal critic, and former Clinton labour secretary, puts the blame on the Tea Party’s obsession with shrinking not just the deficit, but the federal government – including Social Security and Medicare, worker protections, civil and voting rights, and programs that benefit the growing number of poor Americans.
A conspiratorial plot? Actually, a stated policy if you read the website of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which launched an initiative called “restore the balance,” to address “an unprecedented shift of power from the states to the federal government.”
ALEC represents the interests of a corporate and socially conservative America that is cheek by jowl with the Republican Party.
It sponsors “model legislation” that’s replicated across the states to counter the “intrusive” effects of federal laws. It aims to press the delete button on environmental protection that stands in the way of business, along with Obama’s health care. And it campaigns to push through “right to work” laws, reining in and privatizing public services.
Slicing and dicing the federal government, Reich says, would benefit federalism by spreading despair about Washington’s ability to make people’s lives better. But the next midterm election, in 2014, is just around the corner, with the entire Republican-dominated House of Representatives up for grabs. Its outcome will show whether public anger outstrips despair.
For more on ALEC see Center for Media and Democracy and DBA Press.
Olivia Ward has covered conflicts, politics and human rights as a correspondent and bureau chief from the former Soviet Union to the Balkans, Northern Ireland, the Middle East and South Asia. She covered the U.S. elections in 2008 and 2012 and wrote the Star’s guides to the 2012 election.