Andrew Jeromski, Open Media Boston, February 16, 2013
BOSTON/Government Center—With $1 trillion in potential budget cuts that would devastate social programs and adversely effect economic recovery looming on March 1st, a group of Boston community activists and residents took to the JFK Federal Building to present freshman Senators William “Mo” Cowan (D-Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with giant Valentine’s Day cards on Thursday imploring them to do what they can to head off the heavy-handed “sequestration” cuts that become law on March 1st, while protecting medicare, medicaid and vital social programs, cutting defense spending and ending the war in Afghanistan immediately.
The “Have a Heart” rally was sponsored by the coalition Budget for All, along with the Mass. Alliance of HUD Tenants, American Federation of Government Employees Local 3258, City Life/Vida Urbana and New England United for Justice, among others. The coalition is advocating for the implementation of the "Budget for All", a nonbinding referendum which passed in all 91 Bay State communities where it appeared on the ballot by a three-to-one margin, calling on President Obama and Congress to prevent cuts to Social Security, housing and other vital programs, create and protect jobs, raise revenues by closing tax loopholes, restoring higher tax rates on the top two percent and reduce Pentagon spending to fund domestic needs.
The rally began around 12:30 p.m., in front of the federal building at Government Center, with a group leading a sing-along of popular rock standards—such as Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” and The Beatles’ “All We Need is Love”—with lyrics altered for the occasion.
Several speakers addressed the assembled crowd, making impassioned pleas for Washington to leave the services they rely on—such as housing and rent assistance, food stamps and mental health services—out of any spending cuts imposed in sequestration negotiations.
“The Republican agenda actually is to destroy social spending and leave the government doing nothing but police, courts, military and prisons. The right-wing Libertarian agenda,” said Mike Prokosch, of Dorchester People for Peace. “We have a different solution and here it is: We think that we can tax corporations and wealthy individuals $3 trillion and use that money to fund the programs that we need. We don’t need to cut social spending, we need to expand it.”
Roxanne Reddington-Wilde, a community organizer from Action for Boston Community Development, said that, according to ABCD’s calculations, if the sequester goes forward, thousands of the neediest Bostonians will go without services such as fuel assistance and mental health care this year alone—even as the agency tries to save as many services as possible at the expense of staffers.
“Two weeks ago I got a letter from ABCD,” said Reddington-Wilde, “saying on March 1, unless Congress changes federal law and the cuts to domestic federal programs don’t go through, on March 1, I may lose my job. Everybody at ABCD got these letters, because ABCD is trying to be responsible and preserve as many services as we can, even at the expense of staff.
“We anticipate that, this year alone, over 1,000 people who get services throughout the city will not be able to get them, if this law continues on March 1,” she added.
The city of Boston and ABCD stand to lose millions of dollars in education, housing, senior and child care, jobs and low-income heating aid. The rally coincided with Senate testimony by HUD secretary Shaun Donovan and other administration officials on the potential impact of the sequester.
Roger Lau, who was named State Director for Warren last fall, after helping her unseat Republican Scott Brown, was presented with a giant-sized Valentine’s Day card—which he gratefully accepted on behalf of the newly-minted senator, following by reading a prepared statement from Warren.
“Senator Warren believes a budget is about finance and economics, but also about values,” Lau told the crowd. “At a time when some big companies are paying nothing in taxes, when profitable industries like oil and gas are getting special breaks, Washington should not be asking seniors to live on less, or young people to take on more debt for school.”
The rally formed into marching ranks, and then began the trek to Cowan’s brand new digs at One Bowdoin Square. Once there, a card was also presented to a representative from Cowan’s office.
But what exactly is “the sequestration”? It sounds like some atavistic repression measure from Franz Josef’s Austria-Hungary, or a tidy euphemism for something much, much darker. It may be a little bit of both those things, in an abstract sense. Neither Republicans nor Democrats want to see the indiscriminate spending cuts happen, but, the clock is ticking, and unless some budgetary middle ground is located quickly, happen they will. Here is a bit more background:
The Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 increased the US debt ceiling by $2.2 trillion, in exchange for $2.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the following decade. (a dollar-for-dollar tradeoff known as the “Boehner rule.”) Uncle Sam maxed out the old Amex at the end of 2012, which brings us back to the “fiscal cliff.”
When DC lawmakers struck an 11th-hour deal on New Year's Eve to avert the "fiscal cliff" crisis, all they really did was delay the whole thing for two months. Which brings us to the present. Ladies and gentlemen, meet “the sequester.” Turns out this was what awaited below that nefarious "fiscal cliff."
So here’s the rub: unless Congress can untie itself and do something by March 1, a series of automatic spending cuts will take effect—and, to add insult to injury, Congress will be in recess next week, and will not return until Feb. 25, making the probability of these cuts going forward rather high, according to former White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) analyst Gordon Adams.
“I think it is extremely likely,” Adams, who now teaches at American University, told the Globe. “Anybody I talk to says there is no real discussion going on here about how to avert it.”
The delay in the implementation of the now $85 billion in cuts was meant to buy the White House and Congress time to negotiate a better deal, complete with reforms to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. Now it looks a bit more like a hostage situation than a negotiation.
And make no mistake, the March 1st cuts would be broad, sweeping and felt by nearly everyone. According to the latest OMB report, annual 5 percent cuts to non defense programs and 8 percent cuts to defense programs will be required, however, because of the fact these reductions must occur over a seven-month period, rather than a full year, the effective percentage reductions will be approximately 9 percent to non defense programs and 13 percent to defense programs.
Other budget lines that could be getting cut include education spending, funds available for small business loans, research and innovation, mental health services and social programs like social security, rental assistance, nutrition assistance, unemployment compensation and homelessness programs.
Closer to home, it is expected Massachusetts will lose 60,000 jobs as a direct result of sequestration, according to a report released Friday by the office of Representative Ed Markey (D-Malden). Markey told The Boston Globe that blanket cuts could be parried with targeted cuts to defense spending and nuclear weapons, ending oil subsidies and reforming the nation’s tax code.
“We’re not only the Bay State, we’re the Brain State, and that did not happen by chance,” Markey said in an interview with the Globe. “It’s in large part due to federal funding that supports our leading researchers and scientists and innovative bio-tech companies, and federal funding that supports our education programs, and the billions of dollars our hospitals receive to train the next generation of doctors. The massive arbitrary cuts threaten Massachusetts’ role as the nation’s high tech, bio tech, clean tech hub.”
The cuts are not solely limited to things progressives hold dear. The Pentagon defense budget stands to take just as big a hit as social programs, causing many a Pentagon official to warn of the impending collapse of the US as a world power, the “irresponsibility” of defense cuts and the impending loss, as outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta put it in a recent US News and World Report article, of the nation’s status as a first-rate military power.
In an open letter, 55 ex-government officials, including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Senators Joe Lieberman, Jim Talent and Norm Coleman urged lawmakers to find a sequestration solution and avert a possible national security crisis.
“Sequestration will result in unacceptable risk for U.S. national security,” reads the text of the letter. “It will degrade our ability to defend our allies, deter aggression, and promote and protect American economic interests. It will erode the credibility of our treaty commitments abroad. It will be a self-inflicted wound to American strength and leadership in the world.”
But, scare tactics aside, the protesters presented Senators Warren and Cowan with detailed proposals on how to create $3 trillion in new revenues and $1 trillion in Pentagon budget cuts.
These measures are as follows:
Eight Ways to Reduce the Deficit with New Revenue
- Enact a millionaire surcharge—$383 million
- Tax capital gains as ordinary income—$168 billion
- Limit the tax benefit of itemized deductions—$888 billion
- Enact a progressive estate tax—$73 billion
- Enact a financial speculation tax—$821 billion
- Enact a cap-and-trade program and a refundable climate dividend—$472 billion
- Enact a sweetened beverage tax—$184 billion
- End the deferral of foreign corporate income—$114 billion
Six Ways to Redirect Pentagon Spending to Create Jobs and Protect Vital Programs
- End the war in Afghanistan—$150 billion-plus
- Cancel new nuclear weapons—$185 billion
- Cut overseas troop levels and recent expansion—$227 billion
- Reduce Navy and Air fleets—$216 billion
- Cancel unnecessary weapons (F-35, Osprey, etc)—$136 billion
- Scale back costly outsourcing—$400 billion