Hudson is the international executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
It’s easy to ignore the current debate over the “fiscal cliff” as pundits and lawmakers throw around terms like sequestration, triggers, automatic tax increases and spending cuts. But every American should pay as much attention to this debate as they did to the election.
If conservative members of Congress continue to toe the party line, refuse common sense negotiations and hold middle class tax relief hostage to tax cuts for the wealthy, they will be ignoring the will of voters and the impact on working families, including African Americans, will be profound.
Without action to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” a deadline for Congress to find more than a trillion dollars in budget cuts, tax rates will increase across the board. The automatic cuts, due to what is called sequestration, will slash $1.2 trillion in spending over the next 10 years – costing millions of jobs and hurting health care, education, aid to state and local governments and other vital programs.
If automatic cuts go into effect, middle class families would be hit hard with tax increases of at least $3,500 a year beginning in 2013.
And the automatic cuts would cost, not create, jobs. This would be doubly hard for middle class African Americans, whose unemployment rate remains at crisis levels and who saw decades of middle class economic gains wiped out by the recent recession.
Congress should end the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy as a way to find revenue needed to close the budget deficit. Any deal on the “fiscal cliff” must make sure that the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes.
Multiple post-election polls show voters want lawmakers to prioritize jobs creation over deficit reduction, and they want them to protect programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Any job-killing cuts made to these programs would have a long term impact. In states such as California and New York with some of the largest African American populations, a five percent cut to Medicaid could result in the potential loss of more than 28,000 jobs in each state, while a 15 percent cut could result in the potential loss of over 50,000 jobs in other states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to a study found here. More job losses would do more harm to the African American unemployment rate, which rose from 13.4 to 14.3 percent in October hitting black women hardest with an unemployment rate that rose 10.9 to 12.4 percent.
There's more. Cuts to vital, domestic programs could even hurt the quality of life for our kids. Medicaid is the single largest health insurer of the nation’s children who otherwise might not get a healthy start in life. One out of every 10 children relies on Medicaid for their health care.
Right now, Congress must focus on giving the economy the jolt it needs for a robust recovery by shoring up the middle class and putting people back to work. In other words, lawmakers must get to work on the issues voters said they care about and ensuring our policies reflect the core American value that we are all in this together.
If the polling is not proof enough about what voters want, members of Congress should look at the outcome of ballot measures on questions about public spending and tax cuts. Voters said ”yes” to measures that will invest in jobs, education and public safety, and they rejected ballot questions that would drain needed funds from vital services.
For example, in Florida voters rejected a harsh spending cap known as TABOR (Tax Payers Bill of Rights) that would limit the state’s support for public schools and cut health services for children and seniors. In Oregon, voters said “no,” to an estate tax break for millionaires. In New Hampshire, voters rejected a constitutional ban on income taxes and in Michigan, voters rejected a constitutional super-majority requirement, which would have required two-thirds support in the legislature to increase taxes
In other states, voters passed measures to prevent cuts and raise revenues for investments public services and education. Notably, California voters approved Propositions 30 and 39, which modernize the state tax codes for corporations and the wealthy, eliminate $6 billion in cuts to state colleges and generate revenues for education, public safety and infrastructure.
When Congress returns from Thanksgiving recess, it will have 30 days to find a way to avoid going over the “fiscal cliff”. It’s incumbent upon members of Congress to do what the voters told them to do and what’s in the best interest of all Americans.
Members must make the choice to continue the economic recovery by putting people back to work and investing in job creation instead of trying to cut our way to prosperity.
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