February 21, 2013
If Democrats in Congress fail to put the brakes on devastating sequester cuts slated to kick-in March 1, they won’t be able to claim that there weren’t any other options. A broad coalition of nearly 50 labor unions and community action groups brought a grab bag full of ideas to the offices of Senators Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand on February 20. (Read More and Watch Video)
And unlike the looming sequester cuts that would reportedly cost over 70,000 New Yorkers their jobs, put the lives of 1500 HIV-positive people in jeopardy and leave almost 11,000 domestic violence victims abandoned, the alternatives happily dropped on Schumer and Gillibrand’s doorstep would generate billions of dollars while preserving vital social programs.
“A year-and-a-half ago, our Congress did a really dumb thing,” Citizen Action of New York Downstate Campaigns Director Jesse Laymon told a crowd of about 30. “They created the sequester. They created these huge cuts – massive cuts. Cuts to vital social services across the country. Cuts to every program that matters both here and abroad. They’re cutting it all, over a trillion dollars worth. Why? Can anybody think of a good reason why? I can’t. There’s no need for the sequester.”
Instead of a “bad grand bargain” that will guarantee gutting Head Start jobs and making sure fewer teachers receive professional training and development, Laymon and others in the coalition want to cut tax loopholes for the wealthy, reduce military spending and tax Wall Street.
“We could get nearly half a trillion dollars just from closing down individual tax loopholes,” Laymon said. “And that’s just from rich people. We can close down tax loopholes on corporations that outsource jobs overseas. We can close those tax loopholes that corporations don’t need and don’t deserve, and allow some that are making billions of dollars in profit, to pay zero dollars in taxes every year.”
While the City of New York can’t seem to find enough money to pay seasoned school bus drivers and teachers, Michael Zweig, chair of the New York City Chapter of U.S. Labor Against the War, reminded supporters that last year alone, the people of New York City sent $4 billion in tax money to perpetuate the interminable war in Afghanistan.
“When we’re talking about the war in Afghanistan, we’re talking about what priorities we have as a people,” Zweig said. “We in the labor movement believe that those priorities should be for the people.”
Barbara Edmonds, director of field operations for District Council 37, AFSCME, echoed the same sentiment.
“All of those folks who make up the working class as well as those who in our midsts that are most vulnerable need to be protected from these potentially terrible cuts to social services,” Edmonds said.
If closing the obvious loopholes for corporations and wealthy individuals isn't enough for Democratic legislators to avoid the sequester, Layman offered still one more alternative.
“Let’s tax Wall Street,” Layman said. “Is that so crazy? Can we tax Wall Street just a tiny, little bit? Just three pennies for every one-hundred dollars in stock trades. That’s 0.03 percent. That alone could raise nearly $100 billion a year.”
Maybe so, but taxing Wall Street transactions remains a populous no-brainer that nevertheless makes mainstream Democrats hem and haw. Mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson, for example, dismissed the idea out of hand just a few months ago when LaborPress interviewed him at the offices of CWA Local 1182 in Queens.
Schumer and Gilliabrand surrogates sent out to talk with those demonstrating outside the senators’ offices at 780 Third Avenue in Manhattan, meanwhile, refused to answer any questions, insisting only that the senators would “work on behalf” of those rallying against the sequester.
“Americans want our leaders to invest in jobs, and to protect critical services and programs such as Medicare, medicaid and Social Security,” New York Central Labor Council President Vinny Alvarez said in a statement. “Sequestration is not the answer; it will only undermine those goals. It’s time for Congress to stand up for working families and cancel across the board cuts by closing tax loopholes for Wall Street and the top 2 percent.”