Wednesday, December 26, 2007

2007 Congressional Victories

Contained in the budget bill recently passed out of Congress were some small but important gains in health care funds, especially for women, veterans, and low-income working families.

These groups have seen federal funding for needed programs that affect them starved, slashed and cut and ignored by the previous Republican Congress and President Bush year after year.

But in a signal that electing a new Congress can shift political power away from the right and see benefits for working people, the recent omnibus bill contains much-needed new funding for programs.

The bill adds new funds to Title X family planning programs and eliminate funds for disastrous and wasteful abstinence-only programs. These Title X services provide millions of low-income patients in with such health needs as contraceptive services; breast and cervical cancer screening; sexually transmitted infection (including HIV) prevention, testing and education; and related counseling services.

The bill funds S-CHIP through 2008, but, because of repeated Bush vetoes, Congress could not provide a basis for expanding and reauthorizing the program to cover more children who lack health insurance.

Billions have been added for the first time to provide for veterans health (including mental health) needs. as well as job and education benefits. Under Bush services have been ignored: see Walter Reed Army Hospital and waiting lines for six months at most veterans health care facilities as only one example.

Most social programs that benefits working families such as subsidies for home heating costs in the winter or food distribution to poor seniors, Head Start, and more received new funding or reauthorization.

Now I know there are some people on the left who will say none of this matters because the Democrats didn't end the war. Well I think that is wrong. I think the Democrats can be criticized for failing to force some change in US policy toward Iraq.

But to say these other issues – with that one could include the push for universal health care, union rights, and civil rights protections, or raising the minimum wage, expanding access to college entrance by reducing the cost of student loans, etc. – are less important is simply wrong.

Who is it that doesn't need to have their home heating costs subsidized, or to have the benefit of a higher minimum wage, or who cares nothing for health services that directly benefit women, or who is it that really has no need for protecting the right to organize a union, or who is it that has never really thought much about the value of Head Start? Who is it that is privileged enough to say, "Civil rights protections – whether gay rights, reproductive rights, affirmative action, immigrant rights – are so less important."

I think these things are important – earth-shatteringly important. And the point is that a serious change in the presidency and the make-up of Congress (and subsequent make-up of the courts) will see a real transformation both in how working families are able to live their lives and in the political terrain on which we can fight for social transformation on a greater scale.

This is the essence of the real victories that congressional Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi really more than anyone else, have been hammering out over the las few months. One might even say she picked up a reluctant House and an even more reluctant Senate and carried them on her back as far as she could.

Now it is up to the rest of us to give her the tools, the mandate, the overwhelming political victory in November 2008 that includes an increased number of progressives, a stronger Democratic majority in both House, and the presidency to not only complete the agenda of the New Direction Congress but to win the right of working people to join and organize unions, to win universal health care, to end the war in Iraq, and to protect and strengthen key social institutions like public education, Social Security, Medicare. This is a stepping stone from which working families united with an all-people's coalition will really change our country.

1 comment:

normandmarkowitz said...

This is a very inteligent post.

Systematic budget cutting for social services has been a strategy of political conservatives from the late 1930s on, when the newly formed conservative coalition of Republicans and Southern Democrats launched campaigns to sharply reduce spending for the Works Progress Administration, Aid to Families with Dependant Children, and other New Deal social programs which they knew the couldn't repeal.

With Ronald Reagan's election to the presidency, there were deep cuts in a wide variety of social service programs that the administration could cut and increased payroll taxes for social security and medicare, "entitlements" which the Reagan and whose benefits Reagan and his supporters couldn't reduce directly. There was also an unprecedented 12 year freeze in minimum wages.

While these increases deserve to be applauded, they should be seen as only a relatively small beginning in reversing the trends of the last 26 years. The Clinton administration did in its first years try to move away from the systematic social service budget cutting, but lost Congress in 1994 and ended up joining rather than fighting the rightwing Republicans in eliminating AFDC, the only major piece of New Deal Social Welfare legislation that the Right was succeeded in repealing(althouth they continue to attempt to privatize social security, undermine minimum wage and overtime laws, and have done everything in their power to marginalize federal regulatory agencies, attempting to turn them into shills for the corporations they are supposed to be watching.

Ending the Iraq occupation won't in and of itself defeat the Right-wing, but restoring the public sector and establishing Universal Health Care, greatly increased minimum wages, labor legislation that will help rather than hinder trade union organization, reregulation of industry and finance in the public interest will, because once working people live more secure and productive lives they will be less likely to follow the rightwing demagogues who blame their problems on "government spending," taxes, illegal immmigrants, affirmative action policies, and other scapegoats that the Right has been attacking for decades