Working families have bigger issues than deficit

The greatest challenge facing the economy of the Upper Peninsula is the crisis of high unemployment and low wages, not the deficit. This problem isn’t unique to our region or our state. Nationwide, over 20 million people are in need of full-time work.

Although U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, eventually voted to end the Republican shutdown of the federal government, he should be held accountable for allowing it to happen in the first place. According to the Council on Economic Advisers, that politically-motivated recklessness will reduce economic growth by 0.25 percentage points in the fourth quarter.

Across Michigan, the Republican shutdown directly impacted 27,693 federal workers. Although that folly has ended, more danger lies ahead. Republicans in Congress plan to hurt more people with continued budget austerity and cuts to our Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

Working families can’t afford to let that happen.

A conference committee has been established to work out differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget resolution. Before things get out of hand, we should tell our elected leaders to do three things: (1) repeal sequestration-without replacing it with other harmful cuts; (2) protect Social Security and Medicare from benefit cuts; and (3) raise more revenue from Wall Street and the wealthiest Americans.

Sequestration cuts are holding back economic growth; according to Congressional Budget Office, simply repealing sequestration would generate 800,000 jobs by this time next year. It is time for Congress to start focusing on the real challenge facing our economy: the jobs crisis. The 2014 budget resolution approved by the Senate makes $100 billion of additional investments in infrastructure and worker training.

Congress must oppose any cuts in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits, including the shifting of health care costs to beneficiaries. Social Security and Medicare benefits should be improved, not cut, because working people need more economic security, not less. Let’s not forget that these programs are earned benefits that people pay into all of their working lives.

Finally, working Americans have already sacrificed enough, and Wall Street and the wealthiest Americans should start paying their fair share. Repealing tax subsidies for sending jobs overseas would generate revenue which could be used to rebuild our economy without increasing the deficit. The budget resolution passed by the Senate would do just that.

When the average CEO’s salary for the first morning on the job is the same amount the average worker makes in a year, it’s clear that the wealthiest Americans and corporations making record profits can afford to do their part.

Ending undeserved and wasteful corporate tax breaks would allow us to invest in our workforce and create the family-sustaining jobs our neighbors so desperately need. By rebuilding our infrastructure, education, and manufacturing base, we can create good jobs with good benefits and provide relief to our struggling working and middle class. This is America, after all. Jobs should lift people out of poverty, not trap them in a vicious cycle of desperation.

If the conference committee is unable to agree on a budget resolution that would end sequestration and raise tax revenue from the wealthy and Wall Street for an extended period, Congress should at least cancel sequestration for one or two years without making other harmful cuts.

Federal programs that enrich our lives are too numerous to count. Whether you are receiving medical care through the Veterans Administration, have a child in Head Start, or simply enjoy hunting on federally managed land, I hope you will join the fight against unnecessary austerity. It is as simple as calling or writing to our congressman.

The truth is, we can’t cut our way to a stronger economy or more prosperous communities. Places like Greece have tried and failed. The next federal budget should focus on ending our immediate jobs crisis without harming our seniors or jeopardizing the benefits that they have earned.

As citizens in a democracy, it is our duty to contact our elected leaders on the important issues of our time.

I sincerely hope that Rep. Benishek is reading this article, and that he will put aside partisan bickering to help end the sequestration, strengthen Social Security, and make Wall Street pay its fair share. The time for him to commit to such actions is now, before Congress irresponsibly creates another unnecessary showdown.

Editor’s note: Mike Thibault is president of the Marquette County Labor Council.