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Manufacturing Poverty

by CHERI HONKALA

On December 10, community leaders all across the country held vigils and rallies outside Congressional offices to defend the safety net and protest the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations in Washington, DC. It was part of a coordinated national campaign on International Human Rights Day, the 64th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Among other provisions, the Declaration proclaims the inalienable human right to jobs, housing, health care, education, and social security.

The “fiscal cliff” is an artificial crisis created by Congress as a ploy to dismantle the safety net programs the American people have built up and relied on for generations. In their own words, corporations want to “use the fiscal cliff as an opportunity” to push for tax cuts for themselves and benefit cuts for the rest of us.

Although the “fiscal cliff” is allegedly about the federal budget deficit, many proposals actually under discussion show that it has nothing to do with the deficit whatsoever.

For one, President Obama proposed a so-called “chained CPI” formula that would cut Social Security benefits, especially for the poorest and most elderly. Social Security currently runs a 2.7 trillion dollar surplus, is a separate fund that by law cannot increase the deficit, and in fact has never contributed a penny to the deficit in its entire 77-year history.

Another proposal is a $134 billion corporate “tax repatriation holiday”. This would INCREASE the deficit and proves that the “fiscal cliff” is really designed just to raise corporate profit even if it means plunging millions of Americans into poverty.

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and affordable housing have been and are now fully funded and paid for through our payroll and income taxes, and are supported by an overwhelming super-majority of voters. They are the property of the American people and the inheritance we have prepared for our children and grandchildren. A “grand bargain” or any other kind of compromise that in any way diminishes or weakens these programs in order to enrich corporations is totally unacceptable.

The idea that America has become so impoverished that it can no longer afford the most elementary necessities of its people is patently absurd. As a nation we are richer and more productive than ever. Despite declining industrial employment, our manufacturing OUTPUT is higher now than it has ever been, thanks to the technological revolution. The attacks on the safety net are deliberate efforts to artificially introduce poverty in the midst of plenty.

The solution to the deficit is not difficult: it is to make banks and corporations pay their taxes. In the 1940s, corporations paid 50% more taxes than individuals. Today, they pay 75% LESS than individuals. There is no shortage of money. Corporations continue to reap record profits year after year, but they are paying fewer taxes.

Jill Stein and the I have a plan that addresses the deficit, and more importantly the unemployment epidemic and the looming climate crisis. It is called the Green New Deal that  would create millions of jobs providing human services and building sustainable infrastructure. What we have in America today is not a deficit problem at all but a human rights problem. The time has come for us to reject the poverty agenda of the “fiscal cliff” promoted today by both Republicans and Democrats. The time has come to provide a job, housing, health care, and education to every American.

Cheri Honkala was the Green Party candidate for vice president of the United States. She is co-founder of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU) and co-founder and National Coordinator of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign.

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