Friday, February 18, 2011

We must all hang together...

President Obama has presented his 2012 budget proposal to congress. The congress is debating cuts to existing 2011 spending and of course permanent cuts to the 2012 budget and forward. The result of these proposals is predictable: I get email.

I've received email from public radio, the lung association, planned parenthood supporters... and it will just keep snowballing from here. The theme of each email is similar. We do really good and important things. We can't withstand this cut (optional sub-theme: we save the government money in the long run), and we need you to contact your legislators to save us.

All of these emails are true, but I think they all miss the point. Each organization or cause which contacts me is advocating for the congress and president to save them. Each individual organization is trying to salvage their own government support, thinking they alone are a very small portion of the budget and saving just them won't cost much so if enough people just contact their legislators, they will be spared.

Problem is, every other good cause in America is working to save only themselves. Amid the cacaphony of separate voices, no one message will be heard. Almost certainly very few specific organizations will actually be successful in saving just their own financial hide.

I have a suggestion: let's all line up on one common message. The message isn't "spare program X from cuts." The message is "okay, if you refuse to have a fair tax system and raise revenue from things like estate taxes that worked for years, then let's cut where cuts will matter. Military spending goes first."

A brief digression to the numbers. The president's budget shows total discretionary "security" spending for 2011 at $891 billion. All other discretionary spending - everything else that all my friends in nonprofits want to spare from elimination or amputation - is listed at $496 billion dollars. Military spending is nearly twice the budget of all other categories of discretionary spending combined.

The president proposes a 2012 budget that reduces the military and related budgets from $891 billion to $881. And then every projected year after that increases those line items. Remember, we are broke and can't afford to educate our kids or feed the hungry. But we are increasing military related spending. The one year cut for security amounts to just over one percent of their budget. And then it goes back up.

The OMB goes on to describe a cut in all other domestic discretionary spending from $496 billion in 2011 to $462 billion in 2012 and then cut again in 2013 to $444 billion and then held to an inflationary cut of $444 billion in 2014. (Remember, in these out years military related spending is increasing again, to $895 in 2014 and breaking $900 billion in 2015). So while the bigger-by-nearly-two-times section of the budget gets about a 1% cut, the smaller section of the budget - which includes all these groups doing amazing work - is being slated for about a 7% cut.

A 7% cut is the best case scenario. Congress is calling for wholesale program eliminations.

So, even the less-extreme proposal from the president calls for huge cuts to social needs while largely holding military-related spending harmless and increasing that spending before investing in kids and families.

Okay, end of digression.

My point is we cannot defend the real needs of our communities one program at a time. We are guaranteed to come out overall losers - even if we save one or two programs - if we are scattered everywhere and not addressing the real issues. Those issues are:

1. We as a nation have enough money to meet our basic needs. We have just been chosing to spend it for things like oligarchical transfers of wealth and nearly unlimited wars.

2. If we agree we are going to cut government spending, let's start with the biggest chunk of the discretionary budget. If we can really make the decision to cut spending on such critical needs as housing for people without shelter, we can spread that pain at least equally in both real dollars and percentages to the security industrial complex.

3. Whenever any specific interest comes to us and says "contact congress to save X program" we should respond, I will contact the president and congress to save us all. My message: I will only accept cuts in social goods when all discretionary budgets take the same cut.

We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.

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