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Republicans Inflicting Big Pain on Americans for Petty Political Gain

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This is almost  unbelievable (unless if you've been paying attention):

Legislation to extend unemployment subsidies for hundreds of thousands of Americans who have exhausted their jobless benefits teetered on the edge of collapse on Thursday, as Senate Democrats and Republicans traded bitter accusations about who was to blame for an eight-week impasse.

It's been 24 days since unemployment and health benefits ran out for millions of Americans. Republicans obviously don't want the Dems to get a win that might help them in November's elections. But the country sees the issue as a no-brainer -- three-quarters of registered voters think Congress should "preserve extended unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies for laid-off workers, according to a new poll commissioned by the National Employment Law Project."

The package also includes more aid for the states, which is crucial, and I think it gets lost at times with the focus on unemployment benefits (people call the package a "jobs bill"). States can't run deficits. With the recession, their income, sales and other taxes are way down. Local governments also rely on real estate taxes, which plummeted in the housing crash. That stimulus money is helping  state and local governments stay afloat.

This has real-world consequences. In my book (due out September 27), I point out that the recession's impact on state budgets give us a real-world example of what the Right's vision of "limited government," AKA under-taxation, looks like in practice.

Here's a little excerpt:

Translated into the real world of politics and policy, the Randian Dream looks something like Arizona governor Jan Brewer’s response to her state’s fiscal crisis. In early 2010, Brewer signed a budget that eliminated the Children’s Health Insurance Program, denying health care to forty-seven thousand low-income children in Arizona. She also proposed a hike in the state sales tax—the most regressive tax, whose burden falls disproportionately on working people. Finally, at the time of this writing Brewer was hedging on whether she’d support a series of deep tax cuts for the “supermen” who run Arizona businesses.

Joining Arizona in eliminating health insurance for the poor was Tennessee, which cut 100,000 people from its Medicaid rolls, including 8,000 children. One of those people was Jessica Pipkin, who lost the use of her arms and legs in a car accident in 2005. Pipkin requires round-the-clock care—at $37 per hour—but was told that she would lose her benefits because she and her husband earn too much to qualify. Are they rich? Well, her husband makes $19,000 as a satellite television repairman, and Pipkin receives another $14,000 in Social Security benefits.

In Minnesota, Governor Tim Pawlenty, a possible contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, submitted a budget that slashed funds from student aid, financial assistance to counties and municipalities, a job program for the blind and the mentally ill, low-income housing programs, mass transit in the Twin Cities, and a state program that helps insure people with costly preexisting medical conditions. It was approved by a Democratically controlled legislature; lawmakers justified their budget by pointing out that they’d rejected Pawlenty’s proposals for deeper, more painful cuts.

Clayton County, Georgia, a mostly African American suburb of Atlanta, eliminated its bus service into the city, leaving tens of thousands of Georgia’s working poor without a way of getting to their jobs. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” a fifty-seven-year-old worker told the Los Angeles Times. “So many people here, they’re going to be sure enough messed up. We need this bus bad.” As of this writing, Oregon, Florida, New Jersey, and Maryland were also looking at deep cuts to public transportation systems to make up budget shortfalls.

Perhaps the most striking vision of the libertarian utopia comes from Ashtabula County, Ohio. It reduced the number of sheriff’s deputies patrolling the 720-square-mile county from 112 to 49 and cut the number of prisoners in detention from 140 to 30. More than 700 people were put “on a waiting list to serve time in the jail,” including, according to Sheriff Billy Johnson, some violent offenders. When a county judge was asked what citizens should do to protect their families “with the severe cutback in law enforcement,” he responded, “Arm themselves . . . Be very careful, be vigilant, get in touch with your neighbors, because we’re going to have to look after each other.” A gun instructor told the local news station he agreed with the sentiment. “You don’t have any other option,” he said. “We don’t have the law enforcement out here to handle it right now."

I write this from California, the scene of a devastating budget crisis that’s firmly rooted in the Right’s antitax crusade. In the summer of 2009, California lawmakers agreed on a budget with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that contained “a vast array of spending cuts that will soon be felt throughout the state. The K-12 education budget, which also includes community colleges, lost $6.1 billion from its roughly $58 billion base, and higher education took a $2 billion hit. . . . The state will save $1.3 billion by furloughing state workers three days out of the month. Medicaid took a $1.3 billion cut, along with a $129 million trim to the state’s program that insures children whose families make too much for them to receive Medicaid.” As a result of the cuts, the University of California raised tuition 32 percent. Time magazine noted that “Public universities from Michigan to Arizona to North Carolina have [also] slashed budgets and hiked tuition.”