Only two years after the Great Recession, Americans are still struggling to regain lost jobs, lost benefits and sunken mortgages. The federal budget is the one intersection that ties together the issues of job creation, social welfare (Pell Grants, Social Security, etc.) and foreign policy. Most of us assume the budget argument in Washington D.C last week was between republicans and democrats. But last week’s near-government shutdown was an argument between Tea Party Republicans and Establishment Republicans. The agreement reached on late Friday night was a product of asking, “How much funding to cut and from which programs?” and not, “How do we create jobs?” It was an agreement defined and argued on the republicans’ terms.
[media-credit id=20177 align=”alignnone” width=”250″][/media-credit]We should be paying attention to the deafening silence of questions not considered in last week’s budgetary discussion. The only thing worse than losing an argument on a legitimate issue, is forfeiting the ability to discuss a legitimate issue. Questions like “How can the government create jobs?” were never considered by neither democrats nor republicans in last week’s budget.
The first question concerns creating jobs for the 13.5 million unemployed Americans (for the sake of brevity, I can only mention the additional 11.7 million underemployed Americans). Conservatives and many others will likely object to discussing this question because, “Since government is ineffective, we must empower the ‘market.’” This “market-superiority” assumption, which is shared by republicans and some democrats, precludes discussion of government works programs like paying unemployed construction workers to rebuild America’s dangerously outdated infrastructure. The “market-superiority” assumption ignores the spectacular failure between 2007-09 of the private firms within housing and financial markets and the insufficient prevention of weakened government oversight.
It is criminal that the same so-called “prophets of the market” that got us into the Great Recession by weakening the government and advancing deregulation are now deciding what Americans can and cannot do to solve the Great Recession.
The conservatives who claim there are insufficient funds to put Americans back to work are the same conservatives who championed budgets that increased the fund of America’s top 1 percent to excessive levels. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the after-tax income of America’s top 1 percent and top 20 percent increased over 120 percent and 25 percent respectively since 1979. Meanwhile, the other 80 percent of Americans received anywhere from 5 percent to 30 percent decrease in after-tax income compared to 1979.
The funds exist to put Americans back to work, but the republican defenders of the rich have (with democratic acquiescence) delegitimized discussion of tax increases on anyone but the top 20 percent. The winners who profited from the 1970s to 2000s market bubbles are being excused from helping the rest of America (25.2 million unemployed or underemployed) recover from the Great Recession.
Civic duty is a phrase Americans desperately need to become reacquainted with. Our university, the highways we travel to attend it and probably even our parents’ houses are all products of American budgets with high taxes on the top-income bracket. Many pragmatists at this point are angrily fuming that the Congressional votes don’t exist for progressive ideas. These ideas do not need to be dictatorially enacted, but they must be legitimately discussed and advanced by democrats if we are ever going to return to prosperity and a strong middle class.
Daily Nexus liberal columnist David Kornahrens is raising taxes on the wealthy and employment for the middle class.