Thoughtful people are breathing a sigh of relief that President Obama has signaled he understands the federal budget must not be balanced on the backs of those who rely on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — programs that keep millions of women and their families out of poverty and allow seniors in nursing homes a measure of dignity.
Let’s remember what caused our deficit to begin with: George W. Bush’s unnecessary wars, tax cuts for the wealthiest, and an out-of-control financial sector that wrecked our economy, decimating jobs and the income tax revenues that go along with them. These are the first places anyone — Democrat, Republican or Very Serious Economist — should look when setting out to bring the deficit down.
The basic principles for reducing the deficit are really quite simple: Multimillionaires and corporations must pay their fair share of taxes; health care is a fundamental right, not a privilege to be voucherized or block-granted; troops should come home and the military’s bloated budget reined in; and creating jobs must be the government’s highest priority unless and until the private sector begins to do so.
The National Organization for Women welcomes President Obama’s reaffirmation that “Social Security is not the cause of our deficit.” In his written statement about how he would reduce the federal deficit by $4 trillion over 12 years, the president opposed privatization or weakening of the Social Security system and confirmed that reform must strengthen the program as well as ensure its long-term solvency. We are reassured by his stand in favor of protecting Social Security in the face of an unrelenting, multi-million dollar disinformation campaign by conservative think tanks, right-wing politicians and deep-pocketed Wall Street interests.
In addition, the president’s stated pledge to protect Medicare from House Republican efforts to covert it to a voucher program heads in the right direction. Obama also said that he would not support changing the federal-state funded Medicaid program to a block grant program that would result in reducing support for seniors and persons with disabilities in nursing homes.
Obama said that he will appoint a bipartisan, bicameral panel to produce a detailed plan for deficit reduction by August. Who gets appointed to that panel is a matter of concern to NOW. Late last year the president’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, chaired by two individuals with a history of hostility to Social Security, released a proposal to drastically reduce Social Security benefits and raise the retirement age to 69.
NOW hopes the president keeps his promise that “we will not abandon the fundamental commitment this country has kept for generations” and refuses to make any concessions on Social Security in order to achieve agreement on his deficit-cutting plan. We also hope that in any discussions of reducing the deficit, its real causes — tax breaks for the wealthy, unnecessary wars and high unemployment — will receive the attention they deserve.