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Cut Entitlements? - Whose Entitlements Do You Cut? - Solidarity America - By John Funiciello - Columnist

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Running scared before the onslaught of teabag-wielding irrationals on the right, most politicians are willing to speak of cutting “entitlements” from the federal or any other budget they can get their hands on.

And what do they mean by “entitlements?”

The programs they want cut as entitlements invariably are those, which help or support people, human beings and citizens. Usually, they start out with Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. They want to slash and burn those programs. That is, they want to privatize them.

The entitlement hunters will not be satisfied until half the money that is paid out to real people in Social Security benefits are transferred to corporations, that is, the private sector. They want that money in Corporate America’s coffers. Same for Medicare and the same for Medicaid.

Now, if you are paid $800 a month in Social Security benefits, how would you live on $600 a month? What we’re talking here are cuts that are sure to send millions to the poorhouse, if we had poorhouses. Instead, we have homeless shelters that are only good until 8 a.m.

When “entitlements” are slashed, the home foreclosure debacle, in which millions of homes are being taken from wageworkers, will look like a holiday. People won’t be able to afford even subsidized apartments. Cuts to Medicare will have older people suffering their illnesses and injuries in silence (so many already are). Cuts to Medicaid will have the poor, mostly women and children, wandering their cities on buses looking for a free clinic. And there just aren’t very many of them, even in the most enlightened cities.

Everything right wing Republicans want to cut can be renamed “entitlement,” and then it can be attacked relentlessly as a program that only throws money at the undeserving. That’s how it goes with so many social programs, if not most of them. There are too many Democrats who agree with the GOP and the Tea Partiers or, if they disagree, they are keeping their mouths shut.

The end result is, of course, that it looks like there’s consensus on the issue of cutting entitlements as a way to reduce budget deficits and to reduce the overall debt of the country. Even the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform , a presidential commission, co-chaired by Erskine Bowles, a Democrat and former Republican senator Alan Simpson, from Wyoming, who never saw an entitlement that he didn’t want to cut or eliminate.

Bill Clinton, in his tenure as president, stole the Republicans issue and pushed through arguably the most profound attack on one “entitlement,” welfare, which probably would not have been possible for a GOP administration. He ended “welfare as we know it,” setting a five-year lifetime limit on welfare benefits and changing welfare to make it much more difficult to obtain and keep benefits. It worked well, since millions disappeared from the rolls around the country and no one seemed to know where they went or what happened to them.

Although Bowles and Simpson’s debt commission declared that nothing was off the table, including defense, they dealt with the latter issue separately. Since defense and military (along with veterans’ services) take up much of the annual national budget, it should be the focus of a national discussion and debate, and we should have all the facts. We don’t have all the facts about defense and military spending. For example, the Bush-Cheney wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not paid for out of any current budget. These were “off budget” enterprises and the people, in general, know little about how much they have cost in blood and money and how (or when) those bills will be paid.

There can be no robust debate on war-making in America and its social costs, because the information has not reached “we the people.” Social Security has been depicted as an “entitlement” program, while defense and military spending has not. That has to change. While Social Security is a system into which most of us have paid, defense and military spending is not. In fact, hundreds of billions of dollars go to Corporate America every year and, once it gets there, there is no tracing it.

Defense and weapons contractors get paid untold sums from the taxpayers for things that are untraceable: spent bullets, worn out vehicles, exploded bombs, and crashed aircraft. Once they are gone, what to do? Simple, just manufacture more of them. With a constant supply of wars, there is no end to the profits of the people who make the ordnance. War and “defense” have become Corporate America’s “entitlement.”

They have come to expect this largesse from taxpayers and the politicians deliver every time. And it is not just the defense and weapons industries that lobby politicians for a share of the pot. You can add to this list the insurance, financial, and banking industries, the pharmaceutical industry, and the so-called farm subsidies that mainly benefit giant agribusinesses, not the farmers. They all arrive in Washington, laden with bags of money for (legal) political campaigns and other perks for our 535 members of Congress. Very few of them completely avoid the lure of big money from Corporate America and, for all that money, they expect to have the full benefit of their “entitlements.”

Educating our children is an entitlement; therefore, school aid can be reduced or cut. Health care is an entitlement; therefore, Americans can be kept from being treated when they are sick or injured. There are many other programs that are considered entitlements for the cutters.

Entitlement hunters can blithely refer to programs for people as entitlements, because that is the way the media, academics, and right wing think tanks all refer to social programs. It has become a reality.

People who need these “entitlements” do not have the bags of money that Corporate America sends to Washington via its minions (lobbyists or “legislative representatives”). If the people want to change the way we think about and discuss these things, they have to begin calling them out.

Defense and weapons industries have come to expect their “entitlements” in the form of hundreds of billions of dollars every year. The entitlement hunters need to focus on the incredible waste of weapons and empire. Until that happens, the disparity between the top 5 percent of the populace and the rest of us will continue to grow. The economic suffering of a third of our people will continue to grow. We will continue to fall behind other nations in educating our children and providing decent housing and health care.

Corporate America will not take less and they won’t allow themselves to be taxed fairly, so it remains for the people to change the way we think about entitlements. Those on the right, like the GOP and their Tea Partiers, are not going to challenge the powerful. The people are the means to their own good health and welfare. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer. His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Click here to contact Mr. Funiciello.

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Feb 10, 2011 - Issue 413
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