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'Tough Choices' for Whom?

A real tough choice is having to choose between paying your student loan bill or having your lights cut off.
 
 
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The phrase of the week is "tough choices," which can be defined as decisions made under difficult circumstances; choosing between the lesser of two evils.

However, when the wealthy and powerful speak of "tough choices," the true meaning of the phrase is turned into a cynical code, meaning: making choices that will not directly affect the decision-maker, but will make life tougher for those already in a tough situation.  

For example, Republican Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana commented last week on the narrowly passed budget cuts that even "compassionate conservatives" admit will surely add to the burdens of the poor and vulnerable:

"For Americans troubled by a rising tide of red ink here in Washington … 2006 begins with reason for optimism as this Congress demonstrates the ability to make tough choices in tough times to put our fiscal house in order."

The cuts include $12 billion for student loans and an increase in the repayment interest rates, at a time when American students need all the support they can get in order to compete in the global marketplace.

I wish someone could explain to me how the GOP, which incessantly calls for "raising academic standards" while lamenting how "dumb-downed" American youth are in comparison to students in foreign countries, can at the same time pass budget cuts that will undoubtedly further exclude disadvantaged students from accessing the "knowledge economy." Yet, they speak of "No Child Left Behind" with a straight face.  

The cuts will also mean that poor folks with marginal access to health care, in an era when medical costs are though the roof, will have to pay even more money they don't have to even be seen by a doctor. The budget bill permits health care providers to deny service to those who do not have enough money to make the co-payment.

In a sick way, that makes the choice easier for those already having to decide between food and medical treatment. Now, they don't have a choice. No medical treatment.  

These are not choices that Pence, the president or anyone in government has to make in their own personal lives. How come you never hear politicians talking about the "tough choice" of not giving away billions of dollars in tax breaks for corporations and the super rich?  

How come you never hear politicians talking about the "tough choice" of revamping the correctional system so when prisoners are released they're not further stigmatized, undereducated (because "they don't deserve to go to school in jail") and jobless, which ensures recidivism and many more crime victims?

When politicians make the "tough choices" that Pence speaks of they understand their own lives are not at stake. What they're really saying is: Look at the foresight and courage I have. This won't be easy but I'm going to persevere through the pain (despite the fact that the pain will actually be felt by someone else) . That's not a real "tough choice."

A real tough choice is having to decide whether to pay all the rent or the minimum credit card balance, which is high because it was used to buy food you couldn't afford and will now be higher due to the late fees and usurious interest rates.  

A real tough choice is having a heat shut-off notice in one hand, while trying to decide whether to pay the bill or buy a new tire to replace the flat one on your car, which is your only transportation to a job you can't afford to lose because you have so many bills.  

A real tough choice is having to decide if you can have a doctor check on your six-week cough or buying a Christmas gift for your wife, who hasn't bought a single nice thing to wear in years. A real tough choice is having to choose between paying your student loan bill or having your lights cut off.  

The real tough choice we, the people, have ahead of us is deciding whether to keep electing people who choose to balance budgets on the backs of those who lead the toughest lives in this country while giving tax give-aways to the rich in the hopes that the crumbs will eventually fall from the table.

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff reporter and a syndicated columnist.