Our political leaders returned to Washington last week to work on the federal budget. SenatorDurbin, the Senate Majority Whip, has a choice to make. He must decide between meeting the needs of working class people in Illinois and across America and satisfying the desires of Wall Street CEOs.
So far, Durbin has opted to side with Wall Street. In 2011, his so-called gang of six proposed a Simpson-Bowles style ‘grand bargain’ that would lower tax rates for corporations and the wealthy, while raising the age of eligibility for Social Security and drastically reducing benefits that seniors, the disabled, and military veterans rely on.
Now, CEOs from 95 of the most powerful corporations are urging both Democratic and Republican officials to adopt Senator Durbin’s favored plan. Although their current campaign is new, these CEOs are no strangers to Washington. Over the last four years, their companies have spent nearly $1 billion to ensure their voices are heard. And our elected officials have listened; because of loopholes and corporate tax breaks, 24 of the CEOs in the “Fix the Debt” coalition were compensated more personally than their entire corporations paid in taxes last year.
These CEOs have rallied behind Senator Durbin’s favored budget because they stand to win big if it passes. The massive tax breaks corporations would receive under such a plan would be paid for by sharp cuts to social programs, including Social Security and Medicare. According to a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies, the CEOs of “Fix the Debt” have amply provided for their own retirement – making on average 53 times more per month than the average Social Security beneficiary – while underfunding pension programs for their own employees. Their strategy both in their own companies and at the federal level is simple: plunder the earned benefits of working class people until the money runs dry, then smash the bank to avoid putting the money back.
A few weeks ago, I joined 60 clergy and over 400 Illinoisans in calling on Senator Durbin to champion the interests of the working class, the poor, and the elderly instead of catering to appetites of Wall Street CEOs. Yet, Senator Durbin refused to meet with us. I was proud to stand in his office while his constituents spoke about why the federal budget matters to them:
· Gene Horcher, a leader with the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, testified about his neighbors who can no longer afford their subsidized housing. He knows that Senator Durbin’s plan favors cutting Social Security benefits and will force more seniors from their homes.
· Connie Gates-Brown, a leader with North Side P.O.W.E.R., testified that both she and her husband were laid off from their state jobs after nearly 20 years of service. She worries that by lowering taxes on the rich, we will exacerbate state and local budget crises, putting more hard working Americans like her out of good jobs.
· Elizabeth Scrafford, a student at DePaul University and leader with the IIRON Student Network, spoke to the impact of cuts to education. Ms. Scrafford, a Pell Grant recipient, worries that cuts to education will prevent students like her from pursuing the quality education they need for their future careers.
Despite inviting several Durbin staffers to listen to our stories, they adamantly refused. One senior staffer even proclaimed, “You can’t make us listen to you.”
Senator Durbin seems to think he can avoid listening to his constituents so long as he publicly shows a spirit of compromise. As he put it over the weekend in an interview with Senator Graham (R-SC) and George Stephanopoulos, “Let me salute Lindsey Graham. What he just said about revenue and taxes needs to be said on his side of the aisle. We need to be honest on our side of the aisle. And as we did under Bowles-Simpson, put everything on the table.” This week, he’s repeated that message, saying on “Morning Joe” that he thinks it would be reasonable to cut $400 Billion from Medicare alone. In fact, he criticized progressive groups who have said we must protect the social safety net saying that would not be “a responsible approach.” He apparently believes that his constituents will let him off the hook if, in exchange for some closing some tax loopholes, he slashes the social safety net in the name of bipartisanship.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We have no interest in seeing him compromise with Wall Street CEOs, and the elected officials they control, at the expense of our communities. We want leaders who have the moral resolve to ensure the well being of ordinary Americans by protecting the social safety net and creating jobs.
I am disturbed that Senator Durbin continues to support a ‘grand bargain’ that will be disastrous not only for our communities in Illinois, but for millions of working class people across America. Its time for Senator Durbin to stop listening to the ultra-rich and start listening to the people he was elected to represent.