Bipartisan Abandonment of the Poor

Written by Jayne Lyn Stahl

Currently, there is widespread, reputable speculation President Obama is considering cutting about $4 billion from a federal program that provides heat for the poor, and in the midst of what can only be called the winter from hell.

As the Associated Press reports, the plan for the 2012 budget would slash the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program by 50% to its lowest level in three years. While the source of this speculation is anonymous, there is not a hint of anonymity from the House where GOP majority leader, John Boehner, released with alacrity an outline for what he thinks will shave $35 billion in federal spending, and which would virtually wipe out heating assistance to the poor.

Some, like Massachusetts senator John Kerry, say that cuts to the program would affect more than three million families.

One can only gasp at tea party suggestions that Mr. Obama is a socialist when looking at what Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez does to keep the poor people in his country warm. Chavez’s “fuel for the poor program,” in 2005 alone, shipped low cost heating oil from Venezuela at 40% below wholesale prices.

With the help of Citgo, according to the Democratic Underground, , President Chavez also used some of Venezuela’s prodigious oil profits to keep poor residents of the South Bronx warm that winter.

What is the American president doing to encourage oil companies in this country to share some of their obscene profits to defray some of the government’s humanitarian costs? This administration is too busy granting amnesty in order to recover what amounts to nickels and dimes in taxes from international business behemoths who have been sheltering billions while evading the IRS.

And, cutting the program that assists low income families with their heating bill is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. If House GOP majority leader, John Boehner, gets his way other equally draconian measures will be taken to trim $35 billion off the record $1.5 federal budget deficit. As the AP reports, other social programs slated to be rolled back fall in the fields of education, food safety, law enforcement, and the environment.

The Republican leadership wants to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AmeriCorp, as well as family planning services. Lord help pregnant women who happen to be hungry because a nutritional program to assist them is slated for slashing by nearly 10% from what it was last year.

As you know, this isn’t about reducing the budget deficit. This is about eliminating social programs in the name of reducing the budget deficit. This is about what conservative, tea party Republicans, and their friends, mean by “smaller government.” One wonders what would happen if a proposal for “smaller government” actually were to hit Boehner and his country club friends below the belt.

If it’s smaller government they want, and immediate, as well as continuous deficit reduction, then why not start with laying off those 87 new Republican members of the House who scream the loudest about the need for a smaller government. Think about what a savings it would be, at $174,000 a year for each in salary alone, factoring out insurance and other perks. Better still, why not cut the House in half, meaning that instead of 435 elected representatives, we’ll only have something like 218.

And, while we’re in the neighborhood, how about downsizing the Senate from 100 to only 50 senators? Given that they also earn about $174,000 a year, and serve for six years, this in itself would be impressive. Let’s take it to the next level, and cut Congress by 50%. Even the founders might agree that it’s better to keep one family warm in a blizzard than to endure a filibuster regardless of what’s at stake.

Why not also cut the Supreme Court in the name of a smaller government? As of 2010, a Supreme Court judge earns about $224,000 a year. Remember, it’s a lifetime appointment. So, a smaller Supreme Court would mean long lasting budgetary rewards.

Instead of nine members at $224,000 a year for life, how about five Supreme Court justices? And, if that doesn’t work, how about term limits? How about a rotating court with five one year, and four the next? Just think of the savings, over 50 years, when one also factors in salaries and related expenses of the associate justices.

In keeping with this administration’s logic, the spirit of compromise, why not make the cuts bipartisan? After all, if a Democratic president can even consider reducing a federal program that provides heat to low income people, then both parties have effectively put abandoning the poor, and working people of this country squarely on the table.

Okay, so maybe the founders wouldn’t like reducing the number of elected representatives, and even appointed justices, by 50%. Maybe this isn’t what the Republican leadership has in mind by the term “smaller government.” Maybe they mean only those pesky little agencies like the EPA, AmeriCorp, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Budgetary allocations for the Pentagon, homeland security, and the FBI are actually being increased; the FBI by 4% alone while a nutritional program for pregnant women is being slashed by that same amount.

What’s more important to the “family values” right-to-lifers? More federal raids, or more federal lunches? Looks like Boehner and his gang already answered that question.

Time to take a deep breath, and demand bigger cuts to defense, and so called “intelligence” agencies that frustrate the White House claims anyway. Time to put homeland security on the table. Anyone who thinks of “homeland security” as anything other than a sugar pill seriously needs to be evaluated.

The president must understand, and agree that moving forward is a good thing, yes, but not on the backs of working men, and women, and not on the backs of the poor.

Any plan to cut federal heating assistance to low income families in half must never see the light of day, or those who support it, regardless of their party affiliations, must only meet with political defeat.
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About the author
Jayne Lyn Stahl is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.