It’s certainly true that our federal government and our states have serious fiscal problems. But the test of any society worthy of the name is how it deals with its problems. Are the remedies apportioned fairly in terms of who is to blame and who will suffer the least? Is everyone sharing equitably in shouldering the burdens?
Just listen to Republican (Tea Party) Representative Rául Labrador of Idaho a while back. “We have no money, and we need your help,” he told constituents in Coeur d’Alene this week. “Everyone needs to share in the responsibility, and everybody needs to share in the sacrifice we need to make to make sure that the United States stands as the beacon to the world.”
Unfortunately, “everyone” doesn’t include the rich Americans whose tax cuts during the Bush years, coupled with “unfunded liabilities” for two wars and Medicare drug benefits, are responsible for a good share of the federal deficit. And it doesn’t include the Wall Street bankers who bear heavy responsibility for the financial meltdown that cratered both the federal budget and the budgets of most of our states. If everyone truly shared the responsibility, there would be at least temporary tax increases targeted to the affluent to help close the gap. But this is not even on the agenda. So what’s left of the middle class and the poor will have to bear the burden alone.
Equally egregious, in my view, is the attack on public employee fringe benefits. These are contractual promises made in the past by our elected representatives who then failed to provide the funding to cover their promises. Moreover the relatively generous benefits (on the whole) were explicitly promised as offsets for public sector wage scales that are generally lower than in the private sector. Now the “unfunded liability” nationwide amounts to an estimated $3 trillion. So the solution is to slash the benefits, of course.
This is a betrayal of the very concept of fairness. It’s a cold war, and what has been happening in the streets and in some of our state capitals is only the pushback against those in our midst who seem to be fairness challenged. Rep. Labrador is wrong. It’s Norway that is the “beacon.” Our beacon has been outsourced.