Starve the poor budget approved

WASHINGTON – The Coalition on Human Needs (CHN) denounced as a “spectacle of greed” a House vote Nov. 18 to approve $50 billion in cutbacks to food stamps, Medicaid, and other vital benefits for the poor over the next five years even as the Republican leadership pushed for $70 billion in tax cuts for the rich.

The CHN mobilized an outpouring of letters, personal visits, telephone calls and e-mails from more than 750 organizations against the package of cutbacks that forced the GOP leadership to pull it from the floor for more than a week because they lacked the votes to ram it through. But just before adjourning for the Thanksgiving recess, they managed to ram their “starve the poor” package through by a razor thin 217 to 215 vote.

In a statement released to the media, CHN charged that the cutbacks will “kick people when they are down and block their efforts to pick themselves up.” The Urban Institute-Brookings Institute Tax Center charged that 53 percent of the tax cuts pushed by President George W. Bush and the GOP Capitol Hill leadership will go to the 1 percent with annual incomes above $1 million. “Are you as outraged as we are?” the CHN statement asked. “Tell your House member to vote NO on tax reconciliation.”

A day earlier, 22 Republican lawmakers stunned the GOP leaders by joining all 201 Democrats in voting 224 to 209 to kill a separate $142.5 billion spending bill for health, education, labor and other domestic programs in next years federal budget, the first revolt by GOP moderates since the Republicans seized majority control of the House in 1994. Here too the issue was draconian cuts in vital programs including $1 billion in cuts for healthcare and the elimination of $7 billion to prepare for a looming Avian flu pandemic. The package also slashed higher education funding by $14.5 billion, neatly offset by the $14 billion in tax giveaways for the profit-bloated oil and gas corporations. Yet one day later, the GOP leadership succeeded in reversing the votes of a handful of those same moderate Republicans, enough to squeak through the $50 billion cuts by a two vote margin.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) debunked Republican leadership claims that they had significantly reduced the cuts in low income programs. Those adjustments “are exceedingly minor and do not soften the House bill’s effects on vulnerable families to any significant degree,” a CPBB statement said. Ninety-nine percent of the cutbacks in vital low income programs remain, the CBPP statement continued. The House budget bill “would still deny food stamps to 300,000 low income people each month and would cut basic food aid by $800 million over five years. This is the same number of people who would have been terminated from food stamps as originally reported from the Agriculture Committee” which oversees the Food Stamp Program.

The bill would deny food stamps to 70,000 low income legal immigrants and 225,000 other low income families most of them with children.

The bill authorizes states to “impose new co-payments and premiums on millions of low income Medicaid beneficiaries.” The cuts in Medicaid would “exceed $29 billion over the next ten years,” according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, source of much of the CBPP documentation.

Child support enforcement and Supplemental Security Income would also be slashed by tens of billions. “As a result more children could be pushed deeper into poverty…”

Earlier this month, a delegation from the National Council of Churches led by NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar bumped into House Speaker Dennis Hastert as he hurried down a Capitol corridor. The religious leaders had come to protest the Republican budget cutbacks and tax gifts to the rich. The protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish leaders told Hastert his plans are “appalling” especially in light of Hurricane Katrina.

“Congress has been actively targeting the poor and the middle class since the hurricane,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “At the very time when Congress should be increasing the number of social programs, we find they have been decimating them.”