Fiscal restraint. Is this why Republicans and Democrats are scared to spend
what the Congressional Budget Office projects is a $153 billion federal
budget surplus on unmet human needs? If not now, when is it the right time
for more public spending to improve child and health care, jobs, schools and
Today, conventional wisdom holds that fiscal policy should be restrained.
Presumably, expanding public spending is a thing to avoid. It can cause
dependency, which leads to poverty, etc. But where is the proof?
Does anybody recall the GI Bill of Rights for veterans of World War II and
the Korean War? Public spending funded the GI Bill. It benefited 16
million (mainly white, male) returning military personnel in the areas of
employment, business and home loans and education.
Returning to the dawn of the Clinton years, federal budget surpluses emerged
when the government spent less than it collected. Then-president Clinton
and his economists boasted that the federal budget surplus was helping to
drive the economic expansion, which featured a booming stock market.
Wealth hasn’t trickled downward, however. According to the Economic Policy
Institute, “One in three working families with young children cannot afford
to meet their basic needs.” That’s a crime in America, the world’s richest
Under the Bush administration, the nation's economic activity is slowing to
a snail’s pace. Hourly workers are facing an intensified challenge to make
ends meet. When economic growth slows, joblessness grows.
Cynically feeling workers’ pain, Bush got his $1.35 trillion tax cut over 10
years. It will halt the current economic slowdown, he said, and put money
in the hands of the people where it belongs. Yet the “how” of Bush’s claim
doesn’t square with the details, though they do indicate who will get most
of the pain relief.
The top one percent of income earners gets 37 percent of the tax cut total.
The bottom 60 percent of income earners get 15 percent of the tax cut total.
According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the working-poor
and their family members, some 12.2 million Americans, get no tax savings
under the Bush tax-cut. Thus those who need the tax-cut benefits the most
get the least.
Bush has a differing view of his tax-cut limitations. That would be
Congress over-spending this fall and busting the budget, he warned in a
recent radio talk.
I completely disagree. We need to broaden the debate about federal fiscal
policy. Now is the time to question the assumption of the president and
Congress that federal spending (on society, not the military) should be
Let’s spend the $153 billion federal surplus projected by the CBO on the
unmet needs of American people today. Public spending for them can be a
solution, not the problem, to what is basically a failure of the private
sector. To be sure, government is no panacea, but it can provide what
people need to live decent lives.
Currently, false assumptions about public spending yield false conclusions.
In a nutshell, here’s why. Too many Democrats and Republicans represent
dollars instead of people. Progress will come when politicians begin
responding to the needs of the general population instead of financial
Additional funds to make up any federal budget shortfalls in spending to
improve people’s living standards could come from taxing the super rich and
cutting the military budget. Such fiscal alternatives present political—not
technical—challenges to the status quo.
The sooner the public catches on that they can influence politicians’ fiscal
policy the better. Many must challenge the few. Where there’s a popular
political will, there’s a way.
Seth Sandronsky is an editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento's
progressive newspaper <email@example.com>.