Have you noticed a common thread weaving its way through the latest news from Washington? It should really come as no surprise. The voices of the powerful and rich are heard and obeyed, while the interests of the ordinary citizen receive resounding rhetoric, but short shrift, shoved to one side in the hope they’ll be forgotten. Let’s look at four recent and major examples.
Obamacare – The President’s attempt to bring health insurance and quality health care to millions of uninsured Americans was supposed to kick into high gear in January 2014. Large employers were to provide their employees health insurance or face steep fines. Small businesses that elected to provide health insurance to their employees would be able to choose from multiple options for coverage at affordable rates. All individuals not otherwise covered by their employer would also be given multiple options, but would be required to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. The January 2014 deadline applied across the board.
But recently we were reminded again who really controls policy in the USA. The rich and powerful were granted a reprieve, while individuals and small businesses got a welcome to reality. The administration declared that employers with 50 employees or more were exempt from the 2014 deadline and were given until at least 2015 to cover their employees. Experts regard this delay as a trial balloon and anticipate that the timeline will be further extended and ultimately dropped. Meanwhile small businesses were told several months earlier they will be afforded only one option for coverage through the national exchange. The message?? Take what we designed at the cost we set, or if you want, leave your employees to fend for themselves. Still worse – individuals got no reprieve. They still must purchase insurance that meets government minimums by January 2014 regardless of cost. There is no break at all for the little guy. No option to take it or leave it. By January 1, 2014 every citizen must have health insurance regardless of what his or her employer decides to do even if it’s at the last minute.
It comes as no surprise that even the most vocal Obamacare opponents heralded giving large employees a reprieve – after all “reporting requirements are complicated and burdensome” to those large employers despite knowing the deadline since March 23, 2010. What about the burden to the average Joe?? He still has to find the money to buy health insurance at rates which have been rising by double-digit figures since Obamacare became law. Where is his lobbyist or PAC??
Don’t get me wrong; I totally support health care reform. I wish we had a single-payer system. But what’s required for the goose should be required for the gander. And talk about giving lip service to the individual: This week the House passed a call for a delay in the individual mandate knowing the vote was symbolic. It doesn’t have a chance of passing in the Senate, nor could it overcome a Presidential veto.
NSA Surveillance – Remember the initial furor over the revelation that our government is data mining every single phone call we make, monitoring our e-mail and social media accounts, scanning the envelopes of every single letter we write, and God knows what else they haven’t yet admitted? The administration has been carefully downplaying its intrusion into our privacy, comforting us with bits and pieces of stories about how it has prevented terrorist attacks and how it is exercising more and more restraint. Our only protection from further expansion of the Orwellian state seems to be a vigilant fourth estate. The media was up in arms, fearing what seemed to be a pattern of targeting of reporters who wrote about the surveillance program.
The administration, sensing a problem, set about compromising the fourth estate. First, they set up select meetings with sympathetic reporters to reassure them. Next, they announced new guidelines for reporters and the media which placed conditions on the surveillance of members of media and limited a reporter’s exposure to prosecution. The fourth estate has real power, and our government took immediate steps to appease them. I think it’s fair to ask whether the press ever really cared about the issue or just how it affected them. Again, so much for the average citizen.
Individuals continue to be treated as terrorist suspects. There has been no backing off from data mining our phone calls, no reduction in the programs that monitor our e-mails, there has been no national dialogue regarding privacy versus protection.
Where has outrage gone?? Is our attention span really so short? What is the value of a press that bows to appeasement? I am reminded of the words of Edward R. Murrow: “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”
Student Loans – In the U.S. today it takes real money to get a good education. A recent study by American Student Assistance shows that the average graduate leaves college with $24,301 in student loan debt. Yet the interest rate on new, federally subsidized student loans doubled to 6.8% on July 1 of this year. Our government, despite an economic upturn, lends money to banks at close to nothing, funds bailouts of industries, banks, and Wall Street, and gives money to dictators around the world. Surely Congress can cooperate long enough to reduce the interest rate charged to students who are trying to better themselves, to learn a profession, or to just get a job. Surely this isn’t a partisan issue: no one doubts that the United States needs a well-educated and well-qualified work force that’s not drowning in debt. You hear lots of talk, but when it comes to quick and decisive action, students lack what gets attention these days – money and power.
The Farm Bill – drops any provision for food stamps, while subsidies to conglomerates get our leadership’s full attention and support. As Paul Krugman of the NY Times notes, for decades, farm bills have had two major pieces. One piece provides subsidies to farmers; the other offers nutritional aid to Americans in distress. Farm subsidies have become a fraud-ridden program for corporations and the wealthy. Food stamps, on the other hand, remain a crucial part of our social structure to ensure no individual starves. Once again it comes as no surprise that the House voted to maintain the subsidies while completely eliminating food stamps.
Unfortunately, my examples could go on and on. The common thread weaves its way through statehouses too. Throughout the country there is a move afoot to lower corporate tax rates while education shortfalls are either a fact of life or covered by higher sales taxes, more lotteries, or fees – all of which place the burden of funding education disproportionately on the poor and the individual.
Despite the billions of dollars spent on elections these days and despite the hundreds of millions spent on lobbying in DC and in statehouses, there is still one place where the individual holds all the cards – the ballot box. The only way for the common thread of money and power to be cut is with the individual vote.
How often have you heard a politician claim he or she “represents the people.” Before you vote again for that person look at his or her record, find out who really has his/her ear. If it’s the rich and powerful rather than the individual, perhaps you should consider these words from a pamphlet called The Ten Commandments for Voters, handed out to people who were allowed to vote freely in Africa for the first time. It read: (3). People who promise things that they never give are like clouds and wind that bring no rain: do not be misled by promises. (4). Your vote is your power: use it to make a difference to your life and your country.