Whatever It Takes!

Wouldn't it be great if we could resolve to do whatever it takes so that everyone who works can afford shelter and food, or to clean up the nation's water and air, or make sure no child goes to bed hungry -- just as we've resolved to do whatever it takes to fight the war on terrorism?

The President said in his State of the Union address that the price of freedom and security is never too high, and the United States will pay whatever it takes. His budget reflects the costs of increased spending for security against terrorists. It provides the largest increase in military spending in twenty years -- since Ronald Reagan's Cold War defense build up, as well as increased funding for "homeland" security, which primarily includes defending against bioterrorism, protecting our borders from terrorist incursions, insuring that firefighters, the police, and emergency workers are prepared, and improving information sharing and technology. As a nation, we face new challenges to our peace and security and new claims on our resources after September 11. But what does it take to be truly free and secure, beyond protection from terrorists? And how do we pay for it? The President answers that we will simply take money away from "wasteful" domestic programs to provide the necessary resources to the war against terrorism. According to the President, then "whatever it costs" involves no sacrifice at all.

Actually, though, there are costs, and those who are less likely to complain or have their complaints heard are the ones who will pay the price. While the President sounds like he is concerned with giving resources to people in need -- to extend unemployment benefits and health insurance coverage for the unemployed, improve education and pre-school, provide prescription drug coverage to seniors -- he is really just offering up a few very limited tokens while simultaneously proposing that the budget for discretionary programs (almost all that government does outside of entitlements like Social Security and Medicare) be increased by only 2%, barely enough to keep up with inflation.

In other words, the cost of insuring the "ordinary" peace and security of working families and the communities in which they live is too high a price to pay. We aren't willing to meet the basic needs of all of our citizens, make sure no child is hungry, protect the environment, or insure jobs and job training to every worker, whatever the cost. Wouldn't it be great if we could resolve to do whatever it takes so that everyone who works can afford shelter and food, or to clean up the nation's water and air, or make sure no child goes to bed hungry?

The really hard thing about this is that there is a simple way out of the conundrum. In May 2001, the President signed into law the largest tax cut since President Reagan's tax cuts, at a cost of almost $1.4 trillion over ten years. If we'd simply delay implementation of the tax cuts we'd have the resources for a homeland security that includes not only protection from terrorists, but safe and livable communities and what we need to be productive individuals and healthy families. If future tax cuts were frozen beginning with the cuts scheduled for 2003, we could save close to $500 billion. (See Citizen's for Tax Justice's analysis).

This would also require a sacrifice. Who would pay the cost? The wealthiest 1% percent of the country who would have received 84% of the benefits of the fully phased in tax cut if it were frozen after 2002. Their sacrifice would not be nearly as painful as not being able to get health care for your child because of cuts to the Child Health Insurance Program or being unable to support your family because of cuts in job training programs or drilling in wilderness areas to create revenue. But that's not how the President sees it -- he proposes to permanently extend the tax cuts that were due to expire in 2011. Not only are there no costs to be paid -- we can afford more tax cuts. But many actually do pay.

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