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Money GOP wants for rich should be spent on the needy
By Jesse Jackson, Sr.
People are suffering.
More than 20 million are looking for full-time work. More than 40 million are in poverty, the highest levels since the Census Bureau started keeping figures. More than 50 million are without health coverage. More than 40 million are on food stamps, the highest ever. About 1 million will lose their homes to foreclosure in 2010. We lost 13,000 manufacturing jobs last month, and the decline of wages and benefits for working families continues.
Meanwhile, inequality is at record extremes as the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans captured fully one-half the overall economic growth during the past 15 years.
This kind of inequality is corrosive. Families suffer, as parents work longer and harder for less, and children have less security and less hope. Society suffers, as basic investments in areas vital to our future--from renewable energy to modern clean-water systems to safe schools--are cut. The economy suffers, for as income gets concentrated, there is less demand for goods, the economy grows more slowly, and jobs are lost.
That is why the current debate in Washington seems like a sick burlesque. Republicans are voting against extending unemployment insurance to millions of workers who can't find work through no fault of their own unless the president and Democrats agree to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich at the cost of about $60 billion a year. Give more tax cuts to the rich or we'll block action on everything, threatens the unified Republican caucus in the Senate. Rumors are now that the president is on the verge of surrendering to this demand.
But $60 billion a year is a remarkable sum of money. According to David Leonhardt of the New York Times, it could provide universal preschool for 3- and 4-year olds, with relatively small class sizes, something virtually every education expert says is vital to educating the next generation.
Or it could provide free college--including room and board--for about half of all full-time students at both two- and four-year colleges.
Or it could fund a national infrastructure bank that could leverage the money into literally hundreds of billions a year to rebuild America.
Any of these would generate more jobs and more hope than giving more tax breaks to the affluent. The fact is, money is already too concentrated. So corporations rack up record profits, but don't hire. Wall Street pockets billions, but doesn't invest in the real economy. Companies expand production, but send the jobs abroad.
We need a project for American renewal, not a holdup where the weak are held hostage. The president would be wise to abandon the back room dealmaking and take his case to the American people. Stump across the country to rallies of workers and the unemployed. Explain to them what Republicans are demanding. Democrats in the Congress--led by the black, Hispanic and progressive caucuses--should make it clear to the president: There is no deal. Americans need jobs and hope, not more tax breaks for the top end and more concentrated wealth.
We need mobilized people to counter the weight of organized money.