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The Debt Ceiling: Protecting Subsidies of the Wealthy

The Debt Ceiling: Protecting Subsidies of the Wealthy
By John Davis LUPA Advisory Council Chair

These days the main topic in Washington is the debt ceiling. In 1917 Congress passed a measure to cap the amount of debt the government can hold. In the past 50 years that ceiling has been raised 75 times during various times. 

The current debt ceiling will be met in August, with Congress and the Senate discussing the viability of increasing the debt ceiling again. Speaker of the House John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl all are staunchly opposed to raising the debt ceiling, demanding “entitlement cuts” to bring the national debt down. Without raising the debt ceiling, many facets of the federal government would shut down providing further damage to the economy. While the national debt should be a great concern to all, it is funny these four would suddenly become so interested in “reigning in the national debt” based on their past votes concerning the debt ceiling. 

During the Bush Presidency these same elected officials voted to increase the debt limit numerous times. When Bush took office the government was actually running a surplus, yet we still had a debt ceiling of $5.95 trillion dollars. The GOP went on their spending spree on tax cuts for the wealthy and wars and drove the debt up. By the time Bush left office, the debt ceiling was at $9.825 trillion with these same four legislators voting to increase the debt ceiling. In May 2003 McConnell and Kyl voted to increase the debt ceiling $900 billion on the same day they voted to extend $350 billion in tax cuts to the wealthy. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, that single vote will add $3.4 trillion to the deficit by 2019. 

McConnell and Boehner have lead the way in blocking the extension of unemployment benefits for those who have been out of work for an extended period of time last fall, holding it hostage until the President agreed to extend the tax cuts to the wealthiest 2%. This extension is a major player in the current debt issues. Now these same two are demanding “entitlement cuts” to lower the current national deficit. They plan on using the debt ceiling as a pawn to force the widely unpopular Ryan Budget plan the Republicans demanded this spring. Under the Ryan Plan Medicare would be privatized increasing out of pocket expense to seniors by 250%, while not lowering the amount the Federal Government contributes at all. Who would benefit from this? - private insurance companies. The same group that got rich of the Republican Medicare Prescription Drug plan that has bankrupted thousands of senior citizens across the country. 

A bipartisan commission was assembled to negotiate a deal to address the deficit and debt ceiling. Vice-President Joe Biden and Congressman Eric Cantor chaired the commission to work out a deal. However, on June 23, 2011 both Cantor and Kyl walked out on those meetings because the Democrats were wanted to phase out the current tax breaks to the wealthiest 2% - which would reduce the federal deficit by $2 trillion dollars. The New York Times quoted McConnell and Kyl in a joint statement saying “President Obama needs to decide between his goal of higher taxes, or a bipartisan plan to address our deficit. He can’t have both. But we need to hear from him.” 

Speaking to the Right Winged and Koch Brother Funded Heritage Foundation (the beneficiaries of these tax cuts to the wealthiest 2%) last fall, McConnell stated his priority is to “deny President Obama a second term.” McConnell is willing to wreck the economy to insure a Republican President in the White House in 2013. He couldn’t care less about the damage he is doing to working families, because his entire efforts are in support of the wealthiest 2%. He recently attended the Koch Brothers conference for the wealthy and their supporters. He is taking his orders directly from two of the richest men in the world. 

Cutting federal spending is somewhat interesting if you are Mitch McConnell, because his state has one of the greatest returns on their federal tax dollars. For every $1 Kentucky residents send to Washington, they receive $1.51 back. As a matter of fact there are only eight states that receive a higher return on their tax dollars than Kentucky. McConnell loudly opposed the President’s budget that cut coal subsidies to Kentucky by $2.3 billion over ten years. Over the past 15 years Kentucky has received over $3 billion in farm subsidies, while less than 35% of Kentucky farmers receive subsidies. McConnell also can to the defense of oil companies stating that NO cuts would come to oil subsidies as part of a debt reduction deal. 

McConnell and Boehner are set up blocking any attempt to raise the debt ceiling, insisting that cuts to Medicare, Social Security, Unemployment, student loans and many other social programs are necessary to protect tax cuts for the wealthy and subsidies to oil, coal and other of their special interest. The federal debt should be a concern to everyone, but we must remember it has been the loss of revenue due to tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and corporations that have mounted this debt. These “fiscal hawks” didn’t care about deficits when it was a Republican President taking a record surplus and turning it into a record deficit doling out your tax dollars to the wealthy. 

Each working class American need to look hard at the positions McConnell, Boehner, Canter and Kyl are taking and ask themselves “are they truly looking out for me?” The answer is simple- they are not. They are protecting the Koch’s of the world at the expense of the working class.

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