In a 1954 letter to his brother Edgar, Dwight Eisenhower wrote, “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H.L. Hunt, a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”
My, how things have changed.
The year is 2013. Our first black president has been re-elected and, following in Ike’s footsteps, is also the first presidential candidate in 56 years to receive over 51% of the popular vote not once but twice. Nine states (and now even some prominent conservatives) have committed themselves to ensuring that all individuals–regardless of their sexual orientation–can marry whom they choose; women outnumber men in college classrooms, and nationwide healthcare coverage is finally on its way to becoming reality. In spite of America’s many flaws, if there is one thing to admire about the tarnished beacon, it’s its commitment to progress. And yet, as of this Friday, that is precisely what is at stake.
More akin to a bad Western cowboy drama than a forum for thoughtful, intellectual debate, today’s Congress defines itself by last-minute hold ups, rhetorical shoot-outs, and braggadocious “this town’s not big enough for the both of us” ideologues content to draw X’s over their very townspeople’s eyes before they dare lose a battle of the egos. In January, this culminated in the self-constructed and poorly-executed “fiscal cliff” fiasco, and as of this Friday will rear its ugly head again in the form of sweeping budget cuts known by the media as “Sequester 2013”. Yes, I’d rather watch Django Unchained, too.
But unlike your typical B drama, the effects of these pinstriped outlaws’ errant actions aren’t confined to the Hollywood Hills; they will be felt across the country, and primarily by those already most financially vulnerable to fluctuations in an already feeble economy. To stick with the metaphor, the money hungry GOP isn’t headed for the bank come sundown; it’s headed for the pockets of teachers, children and ultimately the poor.
On Sunday, the White House released distressed statements to all 50 states specifying how they would each uniquely feel the $85 billion in spending cuts over the next seven months, and the picture isn’t so pretty. In Constable Mitch McConnell’s “unbridled” state of Kentucky, around 21,000 individuals may find themselves shackled to the inevitable sense of self-doubt that comes with unemployment this year. In his pursuit of so-called fiscal responsibility, the Republican wrangler is also content with denying the bluegrass state $12 million in public school grants, which could send 160 teachers and aids home for good, and prevent over 1,000 children from attending Head Start, a decades-old preschool intervention program meant to (and with demonstrable success) foment stable family relationships and enhance the cognitive, emotional and physical skills of children in low-income families.
The possible consequences are just as damning in Ohio, Speaker of the House John Boehner’s home state. There, the state would give up to 8,000 fewer HIV tests, snip away a cool $1 million to help upgrade the state’s ability to respond to infectious diseases, natural disasters, biological, nuclear and radiological events, and turn away approximately 57,000 unemployed people from job search assistance, referral and placement. Oh, and around 5,000 children wouldn’t be issued valuable vaccines for diseases like measles, influenza, Hepatitis B and the whooping cough. Some responsibility.
Nationally, the outlook is just as grim. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) estimates that not even scientific innovation and research, two of the very things in which the United States needs to invest should it retain its spot atop the hegemonic totem pole, are immune from deficit hawk lassoing. According to the OMB, the National Institutes of Health would be forced to “delay or halt vital scientific projects, and make hundreds of fewer research awards,” which could effectively result in the job loss of several thousand personnel (re: innovators). The same applies for the National Science Foundation, whose 1,000 fewer grants would negatively impact around 12,000 scientists and students committed to research.