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Gibson writes: "Good jobs are on everyone's wish list this Christmas, but all the working class (because let's be honest - there's basically no middle class in this country) is getting from the beltway elite and the two corporate-owned parties is more coal in our stockings."

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-ILL) and Senator Patty Murry (D-WA) announce the budget deal. (photo: NBC)
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-ILL) and Senator Patty Murry (D-WA) announce the budget deal. (photo: NBC)

Billions for the Pentagon, Spare Change for the Unemployed

By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News

12 December 13


n Black Friday, Walmart workers went on strike protesting one of the world's richest companies in history paying their employees so little that they have to depend on public assistance. Shortly after, fast food and retail workers in over 100 cities went on strike, demanding a fair wage from companies who have more than enough to share their record profits with the workers who make those profits possible, and instead choose not to. Good jobs are on everyone's wish list this Christmas, but all the working class (because let's be honest - there's basically no middle class in this country) is getting from the beltway elite and the two corporate-owned parties is more coal in our stockings.

The latest budget agreement between Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which President Obama has already agreed to sign, is being lauded by the beltway media as a long-overdue compromise that will finally result in a definitive spending plan. And predictably, all the focus has been on the deal, rather than who was screwed by the deal, and who screwed them.

A Bipartisan Skewering of the Jobless

It's been an obvious fact for a long while now that today's Republican Party has become merely the political arm of the plutocracy. They have steadfastly refused to support anything that would get in the way of the richest Americans to become richer, even if it means the most vulnerable have to suffer that much more. This is true at all levels, from their views on energy policy, to tax loopholes, and even to extending unemployment benefits and food stamps. Democrats, however, have managed to get away with pretending to represent the interests of those vulnerable Americans. But just as they did with food stamps in the farm bill, this latest budget agreement leaves the unemployed to fend for themselves.

At least 12.2 million Americans were unemployed in 2012, and even those with jobs are often working minimum-wage jobs in the food service and retail sectors, which qualifies them for food stamps. Data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that social safety net programs like unemployment insurance and food stamps kept 41 million people, including 9 million children, out of poverty last year alone. All on its own, unemployment benefits kept 2.2 million people, including 600,000 children, out of poverty in 2012. Congressional Democrats may want to pat themselves on the back and bolster their re-election efforts for making a budget deal, but leaving unemployment benefits entirely out of the equation is callous and cruel, especially two weeks before Christmas.

Ignoring the Real Problems

Robert Borosage posted a sage analysis of this deal on his blog, pointing out that the agreement reinforces all the falsehoods propagated about the federal government. Most Americans who don't pay member dues to Koch-funded political organizations could give a shit about the deficit - the whole reason we pay taxes is so the government will do something good with those taxes, not sit on their thumbs and do nothing while collecting a six-figure paycheck. What's really on everyone's mind is the need for more good jobs that pay a living wage.

The much-maligned budget sequester was rolled back, but really only for the Pentagon. Programs like Head Start and food assistance for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Meals on Wheels, and Section 8 housing are still hanging by a thread. Essentially, programs that already get a razor-thin share of federal tax dollars have to evenly split $63 billion in sequester relief with the Pentagon, which has made a name for itself in cooking its own books hotter than a Louisiana gumbo.

Reuters found that since 1996, the Pentagon has inexplicably evaded annual audits, which are normally routine for federal agencies. In the 17 years since their last audit, the Department of Defense has been unable to account for $8.5 TRILLION dollars. Divide that by 310 million Americans, and that's a whopping $27,419.35 for every man, woman and child in America, all of whom are owed an explanation by the accountants at the Pentagon. The Pentagon's budget is already huge in comparison to other agencies: compare the almost $700 billion they were given last year to NASA's paltry $19 billion budget. The Pentagon spent $20 billion just for air conditioning units in TENTS in 2011. Imagine if NASA got just half of the Pentagon's budget. We could probably live on Mars.

The Murray-Ryan budget agreement does nothing for those in need of good-paying work, and likewise spites hard-working federal employees who have already had to endure a shutdown and live in constant fear of losing their job to budget cuts. Under this new deal, federal employees will have to pay more out of their paychecks into their pensions, and military retirees will have their pensions cut. This reinforces the false frame that federal employees are too privileged, when the fact is that one-tenth of US corporations don't pay a dime in federal taxes, and great wealth is concentrating into the hands of a few, who largely evade paying their fair share of taxes.

An Out-of-Touch Beltway Elite

Just as Democrats have done since Obama took office, Patty Murray readily gave up on winning important provisions for ordinary folks in the budget deal before negotiations even begun. The blame lies equally with Paul Ryan and House Republicans for likely even refusing to even start budget negotiations until all social safety net programs were left out of the equation and the notion of corporations and billionaires making any inkling of sacrifice was thrown to the winds. This budget deal is being praised by the beltway elite, because the only people who care about Democrats and Republicans making a symbolic budget deal are beltway politicians and the careerists whose jobs ride on those politicians being re-elected. Sweeping the unemployed under the rug won't make them go away, nor will it alleviate the problems of poverty. All it helps is the lazy political class who doesn't want to stop the gravy train by rocking the boat too hard.

If the DC political class really cared about saving taxpayers' money, they'd fight hard for a living wage for America's fast food and retail workers. In California alone, Walmart's poverty wages cost the state's taxpayers $86 billion in food stamps and Medicaid. We shouldn't blame workers for being poor, but rather their employer, a global billion-dollar company whose 6 heirs make as much in 3 minutes of dividends as one of their hourly workers makes in an entire year. If Congress fought hard for doubling the minimum wage, the effects of that would ripple throughout the economy. In a consumer economy, the economy can't grow if people can't afford to consume. Likewise, if these low-wage workers had enough money to spend, they could help businesses expand in their own communities and hire new workers to accommodate the increased demand, and also save billions for taxpayers as less money is needed to accommodate low-wage workers depending on the safety net. That's real budget reform that would benefit working families and businesses alike.

This bad budget deal is just one more example of how badly we need a serious new political party that's in tune with what people actually want from government. This party has to be comprised of a diverse base of engaged young activists who have everything at stake in the future, and supporters within their community. By focusing our efforts on ballot access in 2014, wins at the local level in 2016, and at the statewide level by the end of the decade, we can launch a serious threat to the two corporate parties, and eventually the people can win actual representation in government.

Carl Gibson, 26, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nationwide creative direct-action movement that mobilized tens of thousands of activists against corporate tax avoidance and budget cuts in the months leading up to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary "We're Not Broke," which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. You can contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , and follow him on twitter at @uncutCG.

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