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September 2011, Week 2

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Fri, 9 Sep 2011 23:34:04 -0400
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Who Will the Super-Committee Fight For?

Katrina vanden Heuvel
September 8, 2011
http://www.thenation.com/blog/163221/who-will-super-committee-fight?rel=emailNation

While President Obama's highly anticipated jobs speech
seems to be all political junkies are paying attention
to today (that is, if you're not a football junkie),
attention must also be paid to the first meeting of the
infamous super-committee.

Today these twelve men and women begin the business of
finding $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in new revenues
and spending cuts over the next decade. What this
committee comes up with might go a long way towards
determining the kinds of resources that will be
available (or not) for any lasting economic recovery.

Before embarking on a GOP "cuts only" approach that too
many Democrats seem willing to buy into, the super-
committee members-six from the House and six from the
Senate, evenly divided between the parties-should look
homeward to their own districts and states and see how
their constituents are doing. That should serve as a
reminder of just whom it is they were elected to serve-
it's not K Street and the nearly 100 registered
lobbyists who used to work for super committee members
and now expect to be "heavily involved" in this debate,
according to the Washington Post. It's their
constituents back home.

That's why Half in Ten-a national campaign to reduce
poverty by 50 percent over the next ten years-along with
the Center for American Progress Action Fund, have put
together a comprehensive fact sheet for each of the
twelve members, describing the conditions in their
districts and states-from the jobs picture, to the
impact of tax policy, to poverty and education.

For example, in the district of Committee co-chair Jeb
Hensarling-a Republican Congressman from Texas who
raises nearly 40 percent of every $100 in campaign
donations from finance, insurance, or real estate-the
poverty rate is over 14 percent, including more than one
in five children. More than one in five residents are
living without healthcare. Thirty percent of families in
his district are dealing with hunger. Since August 2008,
the state has lost nearly 95,000 manufacturing jobs as
well as 84,000 construction jobs, and the teen
unemployment rate is 60 percent. Meanwhile, those who
are doing well can thank a skewed tax policy that's
making the rich richer: individuals earning more than
$200,000-3 percent of the state's residents-reduced
their tax liability by $23 billion on capital gains and
dividend earnings write-offs alone in 2009. Too bad that
for every individual earning $200,000, 24 earned $50,000
or less.

Should Hensarling be looking to cut Pell Grants for the
578,000 recipients in his state? Or the benefits of
nearly 71,000 people in his district who receive Social
Security income? Or food stamps for 21,000 households in
his district that turned to them over the past twelve
months? Maybe instead he should simply say thank you
very much to his corporate donors, but then allow the
government to negotiate lower drug prices for seniors
just like the VA does for veterans. Or eliminate the tax
deduction for vacation homes. Maybe even support a
modest financial transaction tax that reins in
speculation-such as the one called for by French
President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela
Merkel, or used in the UK-which could raise up to $175
billion per year. (Hey, combine that with closing the
corporate tax havens that cost $100 billion in lost
revenues every year and your job is done, super-
committee.)

But it's not just Republicans who need to take stock of
conditions back home. For starters, two-thirds of the
lobbyists with committee ties are Democrats. Thirteen of
them worked for committee co-chair, Senator Patty
Murray, who has strong ties to the defense industry in
Washington State. Although she has a record of standing
up for at-risk populations, The Nation's Ari Berman
reports that both she and fellow super-committee member
Senator John Kerry signed a letter in March calling for
a "grand bargain" deal that would include "discretionary
spending cuts, entitlement changes and tax reform."

But nearly 30 percent of Murray's constituents are
already living on less than $44,100 for a family of
four, and more than one-quarter live on income from
Social Security. Since August 2008, the state lost
nearly 63,000 construction jobs and 29,000 manufacturing
jobs. With one in five families now dealing with hunger,
more than 250,000 households needed food stamps in the
past twelve months. One in five children under age 5 are
now living in poverty, and over 1.1 million people
receive Medicaid or Children's Health Insurance Program
benefits.

In contrast, the state's richest 2.9 percent earning
$200,000 or more decreased their tax liability by over
$6.5 billion in 2009 through capital gains and dividend
earnings deductions alone.

The story is the same virtually everywhere in the
country. If you look only at the eleven states
represented on the committee (Michigan has two members-
Republican Congressmen Dave Camp and Fred Upton), the
wealthiest states' residents aggregated over $94 billion
in capital gains and dividend earnings deductions just
in 2009. 11 states-nearly $100 billion in deductions
just for capital gains and dividends for the richest 1.6
to 4.4 percent. And we're having a hard time finding
revenues? Please.

"Super-committee members have a choice: to represent the
interests of their constituents or protect the wealthy
and special interests," says Melissa Boteach, manager of
Half in Ten. "With so many of their constituents living
in poverty, struggling to access good quality jobs, and
relying on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other
effective services, the choice is clear."

And yet more and more Congress and statehouses are
looking to balance budgets on the backs of those already
struggling.

The GOP with it's human slashonomics approach has now
set its sights on the earned income tax credit and the
child tax credit, which give thousands of dollars a year
to working families and lifted 7.2 million people out of
poverty (below $22,400 per year for a family of four) in
2009 alone. Many states are reducing unemployment
benefits and state earned income tax credits, as well as
cash assistance to poor families. Phil Oliff, policy
analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,
reports this week on lawmakers in Missouri who want to
eliminate a property tax credit for low- and moderate-
income seniors and people with disabilities in order to
help finance new tax credits for businesses. This would
continue a nationwide trend of enacting expensive tax
cuts while slashing education, healthcare and other
vital public services needed by vulnerable citizens.

The grand bargain isn't grand if it only lifts a few
yachts while letting millions of boats flounder or sink.
Get the facts.

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