Fighting for a U.S. federal budget that prioritizes peace, economic security and shared prosperity
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Karen Dolan
Our wellbeing is on the ballot this November. Amid a pandemic, rising inflation, and deepening financial instability, we need a strong commitment from all candidates to our children, families and planet.
In 2021, we won some of that commitment.
Members of Congress – some of them – heard our voices. They made investments – from the expanded child tax credit to healthcare to infrastructure – that brought unemployment to historic lows and reduced child poverty to its lowest measure on record.
Prior to the pandemic, the Poor People’s Campaign: a National Call for Moral Revival estimated that 140 million of us were poor and low-wealth. The American Rescue Plan and other investments brought that down to 112 million last year – a huge step forward.
But even this help left one-third of us still living in serious economic hardship. Even worse, it was temporary. With those programs now expiring, and the cost of living continuing to climb, poverty is again on the rise.
What have we learned? That poverty is a political choice. It drops when the government commits to reducing it. And it rises when that commitment vanishes.
So the stakes for America’s poor and low-income families are huge this election.
It’s not just social spending at stake. Climate disasters are becoming deadlier and costlier. Wars, supply chain issues and corporate price-gouging are sending inflation upward. And the democratic systems we need to fix these problems together are under threat themselves.
We need our lawmakers to show moral leadership and take these crises seriously.
The Republicans favored to take control of the House of Representatives have released a program they call the “Commitment to America”. We believe this document shows none of that moral leadership. Instead, it peddles in hollow resentment politicking and offers no alternatives to address real problems.
To the contrary, this agenda seems to threaten the most effective anti-poverty programs we have – like social security and Medicare – with vague allusions to “fixing” and “personalizing” them. Coming from Republicans, terms like these usually mean privatization.
Privatized healthcare helped big pharma and insurance companies make huge profits through the worst public health crisis in a century. And private takeovers of nursing homes increased both costs and deaths among Medicare patients using those facilities. What we need now is more public health care.
Meanwhile, the Republican program promises to increase our already obscene and ever-increasing Pentagon budget.
We’ve already spent over $21tn over the past 20 years on war, policing, surveillance and border enforcement even as our healthcare, infrastructure and social programs have failed to keep up with need. The so-called “Commitment to America” would divert still more funding from children and families while ignoring that the greatest threat to the homeland is domestic terrorism.
Finally, the “Commitment to America” promises still more tax cuts for corporations and the extremely wealthy. The 2017 Trump tax cuts for the rich are already on track to cost more than $2.2tn over the next decade. If they’re extended, they could cost $5.5tn – effectively taking away from programs that support our basic needs.
Rather than its stated purpose, the Republican program is merely a commitment to corporate greed and private profit. These times call for a real “commitment to America” that moves us toward the promise of what we want to be. Toward a nation where the wellbeing of all of our children and families is guaranteed. A society where all workers have dignity and living wages, paid leave, healthcare, and the right to unionize.
In this society, moral policies would lift the crushing burden of debt. They would ensure a robust democracy and our participation in the decisions impacting our daily lives. They would prioritize wellbeing over militarization and mass incarceration.
This November, with one-third of the nation still struggling, we must come together and demand a real commitment to the wellbeing of our hardworking families from all candidates, not the revenge politics being served up by those who are unprepared to lead. We won’t be silent any more.
The Rev Dr William J Barber II is a national co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival
Karen Dolan directs the Criminalization of Race and Poverty Project at the Institute for Policy Studies