Human needs coalition fights GOP budget attack

WASHINGTON — Constituents flooded Capitol Hill with angry messages this week protesting a House budget resolution that would slash food stamps, Medicaid and other human needs programs by $50 billion while handing the rich another $70 billion in tax giveaways.

Rich Fiesta, political action director of the AFL-CIO-affiliated Alliance for Retired Americans, told the World his organization joined in a “national call-in” to lawmakers demanding they vote down the budget cuts. “The largest group receiving Medicaid is senior citizens in nursing homes. Obviously, the cuts will affect them directly. Typically, they are older, frail, single women. The victims of these cuts will be those who need these programs the most.”

Even some Republicans are nervous, Fiesta said. “They are going to have to go back home with an election coming and look their constituents in the eye and try to justify voting for those cuts.”

Debbie Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs (CHN), said, “Many thousands have sent e-mails and letters or phone calls. The lawmakers are getting the word that these cuts are unacceptable, especially in the wake of the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Katrina.”

CHN drafted a letter to members of Congress signed by 750 organizations representing tens of millions urging the lawmakers to vote down the plan and instead increase funding to meet the crisis of poverty, hunger, homelessness and unemployment.

The American Friends Service Committee, the AFL-CIO and provided toll-free numbers for a “national call-in” to Capitol Hill offices Oct. 17-20 against the resolution, which may be voted on as early as Oct. 19.

The drive for the huge cuts erupted after Tom DeLay, indicted for money laundering, was forced to step down as house majority leader. The Republican Study Committee led by Reps. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Mike Pence (Ind.) stepped in, spouting rhetoric on the surging federal deficits. Enraged that Congress approved funds to rebuild the Gulf Coast, they insist they must be offset by $500 billion in cuts elsewhere.

Yet, the Pentagon and Homeland Security budgets are exempted, by far the biggest items in the budget.

Scott Lynch, spokesperson for Peace Action, said, “The budget we have is the result of the budget Bush adopted after 9/11. Bush has stated repeatedly that cuts to the Pentagon and Homeland Security are unacceptable and therefore everything else has to be cut.”

“The right wing is carrying water for Bush,” Lynch said. “He cannot afford to be seen as cutting human needs in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But they wouldn’t be pushing the budget cuts without the blessings of those at the top of the Republican Party in the White House.”

The GOP lawmakers are also pushing ahead with President George W. Bush’s $70 billion in tax cuts for the rich.

“Do the math,” Weinstein told the World. “Cut human needs programs by $50 billion and cut taxes by $70 billion and you come up with a deficit worse than when they began.”

She added, “Asking poor people to pay for the extraordinary, necessary recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast through cuts in their food stamps and Medicaid is an outrage. It takes real gall to continue pressing for more and more tax cuts so that millionaires who average $100,000 in tax cuts can get $120,000. It’s crazy!”

So crazy, she said, that splits are developing among Republicans. “On the House side, many moderate Republicans are alarmed that these extremists are setting the agenda, and they are being asked to cast votes for cuts in health care and food, especially after the Gulf Coast disasters.”

Even Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the arch-conservative chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, announced that he will not slash food stamp funding in cutting the Agriculture budget by $3 billion. Weinstein called that “an extremely positive sign.”

She praised the coalition fighting the cuts, which includes a wide array of labor, religious, women’s and child advocacy groups. “It is much broader than we have had before and we are thrilled to be a part of it.”

“This is only the beginning,” Weinstein said. “We need to continue to be in touch with members of Congress so they understand how dangerous these cuts are to low-income programs and the people they serve. The next month is a critical period where there is a real chance that these cuts can be defeated.”

The Democrats in the House and Senate, she said, “are overwhelmingly opposed to these cuts. The other side has lots of money, but public opinion is on the side of making the economy work for all of us, not just for the well-off.”

The CHN letter praises the charitable giving after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “While critical to people’s needs,” the letter states, “it cannot substitute for the necessary role of government to help people meet their basic needs and to help families and communities rebuild their lives … to secure the basics: jobs, income when work is not available, health care, food, education, child care and housing.”

It points out that Congress backed away from plans earlier this year to impose major cuts in Medicaid and postponed tax cuts for the wealthy. “In a time when hundreds of thousands of people have lost loved ones, homes, jobs, cars, health insurance, and every other security, it is essential that Congress turn decisively to offering help.” Congress must not just postpone the tax cuts for the rich, the letter continues, “it must abandon them. The need for expanded help is layered on top of already urgent needs that would not be met if the cuts occurred.”

Anna Oman, a spokesperson for OMB Watch, which tracks federal spending, told the World the extremist Republicans seek cuts “in programs that serve the most vulnerable, especially the victims of Katrina. They are using the deficits as an excuse to impose these cuts.”