With all the anthrax and military action, the media is paying minimal attention to the state of our economy and what’s being done to soften the blow of recession. Let’s take this moment to examine the situation.
Employers cut 416,000 jobs in October, the largest cut in 21 years. Most of these cuts were in the manufacturing industry, which has been in recession for 15 months and has lost nearly one million jobs over the last year. However, the decline in the services and transportation industries, such as hotels and airports, has illustrated how the economic slowdown has turned into a recession in the wake of September 11. “It’s not good news for America,” said President Bush, and he urged Congress to pass his economic stimulus package as a way to “cause the job base to firm up and expand.”
Unfortunately, the economic stimulus package that he proposes is nothing more than a giveaway to the wealthy. The bill is largely composed of tax cuts, rather than aid for those affected by the recession. It has $54 billion in accelerated tax cuts, with every cent going to the top 30 percent of taxpayers and half going to the top five percent. Eighty percent of the benefits from the capitol gains tax cuts would go to the top two percent of households, and, according to the Congressional Budget Office, only $2.3 billion of the proposed $100 billion stimulus for 2002 would be spent on benefits for unemployed workers.
The jewel of the package is the repeal of the corporate minimum tax. Five years ago, Congress passed the corporate alternative minimum tax to make sure that corporations don’t use tax loopholes and deductions to avoid paying any taxes. Not only will the bill repeal this safeguard, it will also allow companies to apply for refunds on taxes paid since 1986. This will result in taxpayers paying over $25 billion to corporations. Among many others, IBM will receive $1.4 billion and General Motors will get $832 million, without any guarantee on new investments or jobs. Corporations will once again be able to get a free ride, like they could about a decade ago.
The package contains no extended unemployment insurance and no funds for job training or health care benefits. It also has no economic development grants for local governments, many of which are struggling in the aftermath of September 11. In fact, the corporate tax breaks would reduce the amount of taxes that they pay on a local level, further damaging local economies.
The House of Representatives passed this version of the bill with a vote of 216 to 214 two weeks ago. Only three Democrats voted for it. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat, said the final version of the bill should include more benefits for the unemployed, including health insurance, rather than the tax cuts that the Republicans propose. “I think we’ve got to do the right thing,” Daschle said last Thursday. He has said that a $70 billion version of the bill is being considered, which balances tax cuts with aid to struggling local economies and the unemployed.
Many Republicans have stepped up the level of rhetoric in response to the Senate opposition. Rep. Bill Thomas, chief architect of the package passed by the House, has stated that “every day that someone is in pain is laid at the foot of Tom Daschle.” They say that money put into the hands of the few will “trickle down” into the hands of the many, though recent history has shown this reasoning to be false. Despite their differences, however, the Senate has agreed to pass a version of the package by the end of November.
When Congress passed the anti-terrorism legislation a few weeks ago, there was at least a logical reason for most of the Constitution-bending provisions that the legislation contained. There is no excuse for the current version of the economic stimulus package, which will put money into the pockets of the wealthy and corporations, rather than the people most likely to stimulate the economy. There is already a good deal of opposition to this current version of the bill, and the more citizens get involved, the better the chances are for a more reasonable version.
Drew Atkins is a freshman political science major.