Evil Intentions: Republicans Use Debt Debate To Gut Social Programs

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Republicans are using a real debt crisis with a simple solution to attack programs that they have been ideologically opposed to since their inception

[National Commentary]

On Monday July 25th President Obama addressed the nation to discuss the ongoing debate in Washington over the national debt and deficit.  The President said, “Because neither party is blameless for the decisions that led to this problem, both parties have a responsibility to solve it.”  He then went on to say, “The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government."  His underlying point being, both parties have a responsibility to solve these problems and compromise is the only way forward.

House Majority Leader Boehner (R-OH) followed the President with his own address and stated, “What we told the president in January was this: the American people will not accept an increase in the debt limit without significant spending cuts and reforms--I want you to know I made a sincere effort to work with the president to identify a path forward that would implement the principles of cut, cap, and balance in a manner that could secure bipartisan support and be signed into law. I gave it my all.”

The Democrats have done a terrible job in explaining why this is an artificial debate.  This past December President Obama should have linked extending the Bush era tax cuts to increasing the debt ceiling.  There’s a proverb that says, “When the elephants battle the weeds suffer”.  As the political elephants engage in this ideological battle the America people are suffering.

House Leader Boehner is incorrect. According to the most recent USA Today/Gallup survey by a 2-1 margin, Americans want lawmakers in Congress to seek compromise --and not the compromise Boehner touts-- to avoid a government shutdown. The most recent Quinnipiac University survey on this issue finds that 67% agree that any plan to raise the debt ceiling should include tax hikes for the wealthy and corporations, not just spending cuts. Also, agreeing to raise the debt ceiling is not concession since everyone understands that it has to be raised any way.  Boehner has offered the American people the “sleeves off his vest”.

The audience that Boehner and other Republicans like Senator McConnell (R-KY) and Representative Cantor (R-VA) are playing to is their Tea Party base and the gains that they are making among White voters. According to the most recent Pew Research Center poll, "the GOP gains have occurred only among white voters; a two-point Republican edge among whites in 2008 --46% to 44%-- has widened to a 13-point lead today 52% to 39%. In sharp contrast, the partisan attachments of black and Hispanic voters have remained consistently Democratic.” Partisan affiliations are shifting away from the President and race is playing a major factor in that shift.

The deficit is a real problem but Amendment 14, Section 4 of the Constitution states, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law …shall not be questioned.” America is required by the Constitution to pay its debt. The debt ceiling should be raised and the government should pay the bills for commitments made and services received.

Republicans have linked the issue of raising the debt ceiling with the deficit and are using the debt issue as a hammer in an effort to repeal three important social entitlement programs that they have been ideologically opposed to since their inception. They never wanted a government-run social insurance system --Medicare-- or the government-run program for people and families with low incomes and resources --Medicaid-- since they became law in 1965. Since the George W. Bush administration Republicans have wanted to “privatize” Social Security.

It’s very important to understand the disproportionate impact that proposed cuts to these entitlement programs will have on African Americans.  Even though Social Security is supposed to be one piece in a retirement plan or strategy, due to a lack of income from pensions and other assets, for too many African Americans, it is the sole source of retirement income.

According to the National Committee to Save Social Security and Medicare: “71% of African-American beneficiaries rely on Social Security for at least half their income, compared to less than two-thirds (64%) of all beneficiaries. 47% of African-American beneficiaries rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income and 40% of African-American beneficiaries rely on Social Security for all of their income.” Social Security can pay benefits for the next 25 years at current funding levels; it has nothing to do with the debt or deficit.

According to Kaiser Foundation, of an estimated 41.8 million Medicare beneficiaries in 2002, 33.1 million are White, and 3.9 million are African American. But of those African American’s 64 %  have incomes below 150% of the federal poverty level (FPL), as compared with 32% of white beneficiaries.  A disproportionate number of poor African Americans rely on these benefits.

Last week Boehner stated, “The gulf between the two parties now is about policy. It’s not about process, it’s not about personalities.”  Boehner was wrong then and is wrong now, it’s not about policy. It’s about ideology and has every thing to do with personality and race. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) clearly made it about personality when he stated in 2010 that, "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." It’s not that Republicans can’t compromise; they can’t compromise with President Barack Obama.

Programs that provide retirement security, both financial and medical should be sacrosanct in America.  Republicans are using a real debt crisis with a simple solution to attack programs that they have been ideologically opposed to since their inception.  They are attacking the financial and medical safety nets for a lot of hard working Americans and African Americans will be disproportionately impacted if they are successful.  When elephants battle the weeds suffer.

© 2011 InfoWave Communications, LLC. Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/Host of the call-in talk radio program "Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon," on Sirius/XM 128. He teaches at Howard University in Washington, D.C.  Go to Dr. Leon’s Prescription on Facebook or email

: wjl3us@yahoo.com. www.twitter.com/drwleon

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