'Strategic deficit’ is ploy
to cut programs
Washington - Sometimes Democrats do manage to find their' voices.
David Stockman used the term to describe Reagan’s tax cuts,
but Bush seems bent on same starvation tactics
By William Raspberry June 9, 2003
They sang together loudly enough last week that the Republican-led
Senate agreed to modify the president's $350 billion tax-cut package to ensure
that minimum-wage workers will get the same child tax credit as other families.
Many of the working poor were eliminated from the credit in
the original package because they don't pay enough income taxes to claim
the entire $1,000 benefit. Thanks to last Thursday's agreement making the
benefit a refundable credit -- low-income families will, get the same rebate as
other families later this summer -- about $400 per child.
It was never wholly partisan, of course. Some Republicans have long
favored refundable tax credits, and many others were embarrassed over the
class-warfare aspects of the administration's tax maneuvering. But in the
absence of substantial Democratic opposition, most Republicans found it easy to
go along with their leadership.
It would have been awkward enough if the elimination of certain poor
families from the benefits of the credit had been an oversight or, as with the
so-called marriage penalty, the result of other ostensibly reasonable
it was deliberate - done at the last minute to help pay for some of the breaks
intended for the well-to-do.
That, despite last week's fix, is what makes this little dust-up so
ominous. The president (Bush) has made tax cuts the
heart of his economic policy - sometimes on the ground that the
government is taking too much of our money, sometimes on the ground that tax
reductions will produce more government revenue.
For a truer understanding of what he may actually have in mind, it may
be helpful to go back to the Reagan administration's "supply side"
approach (which the current president's father once, dismissed 'as "voodoo
economics"). As Reagan's budget director, David Stockman, later acknowledged, the real intent of the Reagan tax cuts was to
produce a "strategic deficit that would give you an argument for cutting
back the programs that weren't desired."
kill the programs directly wouldn't work, the, reasoning went. After all, every
federal program exists because it has a constituency willing to fight for it.
But suppose there simply wasn't the money to
pay for all the programs. Then constituencies would have to decide among
themselves which to cut and which to keep.
And if legislators insisted on keeping more than the budget would allow,
then they - and not the tax-cutting
be branded as fiscally irresponsible budget busters.
That, so far as I can tell, is pretty much what's happening now.
What is ostensibly a fight over how best to jump-start the U.S. economy
is, at a deeper level, a fight over the nature of government's basic duty: to
help the helpless and provide a certain level of comfort and, security for
everyone: or only to protect us against the common foe, leaving the rest to the
legerdemain of the free market.
The Bush administration is waging the war indirectly -- by seeking to
starve the government out of a broader role, at least as regards the poor.
The well-off, on the other hand continue to have their comfort and security assured.
The bulk of the newly enacted tax cuts clearly favor the wealthy.
The elimination of estate taxes -- billed as protection for the
struggling farm family -- is in reality about allowing rich families to keep
their riches. Even the new rules promulgated by the Federal communications
Commission will make it easier for big media operators to concentrate their
power -- and their money.
The entire administration seems to be singing out of the Billie Holiday
songbook: "Them that's got
shall get; them that's not shall lose."
I suppose you could count me among "them that's got." I'll do
OK under the Bush approach. But a lot of Americans -millions of them
children - will not, and someone' ought to be thinking about them, too.
Maybe it's time for a new songbook. -
William Raspberry is a Pulitzer Prizewinning social issues columnist for The
Washington Post, Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
New legends of homeless,
ominous signs for nation
By CHARLIE JAMES
Special to The Times July 28 1999
SHE stood with a slight stoop to her shoulders as though the sign she
carried was slowly pulling her to the ground. "Two kids and no place to
stay. Any help would be appreciated."
CharlieJames is publisher of the African-American Business & Employment
Journal. He can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.
Who is this woman? Where did she come from?
He stood ramrod straight with eyes that could have been piercing if
filled with anything but the empty stare of fear and helplessness.
"Vietnam Vet, homeless, wife and two kids. HELP!"
Who is this man? Where did he come from?
They are two of several hundred who are standing on street corners all
over Seattle. They once were concentrated downtown but now they are in every
neighborhood. You see individuals, couples and even entire families begging for
They are a new and frightening legend of homelessness, and they look
like the family next door and the man who used to bag my groceries.
They look so familiar. They feel so near.
It's not just in Seattle. They are in every major city and many smaller
ones as well. They should not be there, but they are.
At the same time, the stock market is rocking. Billionaires are popping
up everywhere and a new rich elite is making its presence felt. In a place like
Seattle, with all of these high-tech millionaires, housing prices are
skyrocketing. Buying a million-dollar piece of property just to tear down the
house and build a five-million-dollar one is commonplace now. They are pushing
up the cost of affordable housing. Maybe it's time for them to build some more.
The more sophisticated the technology,
the fewer people it takes to operate it. Someone has got to lose a job, a home
and, eventually, pride. So they find themselves on a street corner holding a
For African Americans, there is an additional concern. We know that the
history of this nation has repeatedly demonstrated that when European Americans
are holding signs on street corners, African Americans better look both ways at
least three times before crossing the street. This nation has not seen this
many European Americans on the street with signs since the Great Depression in
Hello. Is anybody listening?
OK I know. We have decided to ignore them as we hurry to and from our
But they are not going anywhere. Something is wrong, and if we don't fix
it soon, our streets will become a battleground. As the homeless numbers swell
and they move into every unoccupied nook and cranny in this city, communities
of homeless will eventually emerge and territorial battles may be fought over
the open spaces, the parks or every abandoned building.
A nation is not defined by the famous names
in the newspapers. It's defined by the lifestyle of its middle class and that
group just below them that is trying to become middle class. When they decide
that the system will not allow them to move up and participate in the economy
of the nation, they align themselves with the poor and try to overthrow the
system. All revolutions have been led by members of the disgruntled middle
Most historians believe that a revolution in America would be highly
unlikely because too many people have invested in the current system. But when
you see the kinds of people now claiming to be homeless, you must wonder about
where all of this may lead us. I
Who are these faces on the street
corners? Where did they come from? Where do they go when the sun goes down? Are
they an aberration or are they the first wave of refugees permanently flushed
out of this democratic, capitalist system?
Are some of these sign-carrying homeless frauds making a quick buck?
But there is something in the face of most of them. A sense of
hopelessness surrounds them; their body language tells you they cannot afford
the luxury of pride. Their eyes cannot mask the pain and even self-loathing.
Their clothing and mannerism often speak
of a better time and a better life. You don't want to look because you suspect
that you too could slip down those same slippery slopes of social oblivion.
The shelters are full, thousands of families are becoming homeless every
year and available housing for low-income people gets more and more scarce.
This is a crucial moment in the history of this nation, and how it responds to
this new army of homeless will set the stage for the next millennium and
possibly be one of the great historical failures of this one.
Her hair still carries a touch of perm, his shoes still gleam with the
faint memory of a not-so-distant shine.
They just arrived with lives withering like raisins in the sun.
Where did they come from?
Where are they going?
Today is his day to hold the sign.
GOLDENDALE, Klickitat County - As her government rained multi-million-dollar
munitions on Baghdad, Michelle Dix was perched on the front stoop of a small
rental house, counting one-dollar bills.
As war occupies a nation', a small town quietly dies
By RON C. JUDD / Seattle Times staff columnist: April
Eight, maybe 10 of them were in her hand. Not a bad mornings work for a
get-outta-town yard sale - one of south-central Washington's few growth
industries these days.
"Everything must go!" the sign said. A Britney Spears CD here,
a nonessential pair of skis there, children's clothes everywhere.
Within a couple of months, Dix and her family will be down the road,
southbound, back to Baker City, Ore., the similarly small town from whence they
came years ago. They were lured north by a high-paying job for her husband,
Dan, at Goldendale Aluminum, a sprawling complex on the banks of the Columbia
It was good while it lasted. Goldendale, nestled on a high plateau
between the rolling Columbia Hills, the piney Simcoe Mountains and the Columbia
River Gorge, is by all accounts a grand place to live.
But like many other rural outposts in the Northwest, it is not a good
place to find work. Not since the smelter, poisoned by the same economics
strangling other aluminum plants in Washington, Oregon and Montana, finally
At full operation, the smelters at Goldendale and nearby The Dalles,
Ore. - both owned by Portland businessman Brett Wilcox - employed more than
1,100 workers. In late March, the same week the war was launched, the company
sent layoff notices to its final batch of Goldendale employees.
About 150 of the town's most veteran working-wage earners are out of
work, or about to be. Most of them are union laborers who endured the
unbearably hot and sooty work of aluminum production - summer smelter
temperatures in excess of 150 degrees are common for a good wage, up to $52,000
Layoffs at the plant have been squeezing Goldendale for years. But
locking the doors for good this time, many speculate was a punch to the gut. Especially
coming so close to the start of the war, in which at least a half-dozen of
Goldendale's sons are fighting.
Despair is in the air. "You're looking
for a story? How about the one where everything is closing, our jobs are gone,
and the whole town is drying up and blowing away?" one woman offers, unsolicited, on the main drag
in this town of 4,500.
is a strong sense here that people in Western Washington don't understand the
pain--and that people in Washington,D.C., don’t care.
I don’t think the amount of employees displaced in Goldendale has a
greater overall impact, per capita, than Boeing leaving Seattle," says Ben
McCredy, owner of a downtown dry-goods store.
His business is down 40 percent over the year before. And he's a lucky
one: About half the businesses that once lined the streets here are gone,
making a mockery of a "60s- era sign downtown declaring "Goldendale
Shopping Center - Sportsman's Paradise."
It's the center, all right. But most people do their shopping across the
bridge in Oregon.
Houses are for sell all over town. Goldendale is dying, one outbound
U-Haul at a time. Even the most optimistic can't imagine a quick cure.
"It's been kind of like a one-two punch," says Ken Berry, a
soft-spoken, longtime aluminum-plant worker sitting at a metal desk inside the
nondescript Goldendale office of United Steelworkers Local 8147, which he
culprits are high energy costs from the Bonneville Power Administration and
competition from China and South America, says Berry, whose eyes show the tired
look of one trying to give hope to people who have little. The victims are some
of the last well-paid blue-collar workers in the region.
He doesn't sugarcoat it. "There's really nothing else for these
people out there."
industry, he says, has all but bailed out of America - and met little
opposition at the borders.
In Central Washington, that industry always has come largely courtesy of
the federal government, whose dams on the mighty Columbia turned a desert into
a fertile basin - and had powered the aluminum industry with cheap electricity
since the 1940,s.
But the government, people here lament,
doesn't seem to be in the jobs business anymore.
This can be a touchy subject when your nation is at war,
spending $100 billion or more on its engagement in Iraq, and facing an ominous,
blank-check future rebuilding project.
Berry, who says he's a strong supporter of troops in the Gulf, is one of
few in town to address the connection head-on.
"When President Bush sets aside $900 million to
rebuild a country (like Iraq)," he asks, "why not set aside the same
amount to rebuild our own?"
Others, with their friends and neighbors' children in the war, are more
reluctant to go there. Possibly because the cost is still unknown, people here
blame their predicament less on war spending than on government pork - or on
environmental rules that have curbed dam flows and slashed logging in the Mount
Adams foothills to the west.
Mostly, they curse the lack of
attention to, and prosecution of, the maddeningly faceless people responsible
for the Enron debacle and accompanying energy crisis - the final blow to their
But even some strong proponents of the war can't help worry about the
cost, especially in the face of a burgeoning federal, deficit.
"The war needs to be fought," says Fred Krueger, a Vietnam-era
Army veteran laid off from the aluminum plant last year. "The war is a
necessity. But we're going to pay for it."
In a way, the bill already has come in Goldendale. The thinking: If the
government didn't keep cheap juice flowing to smelters during good times, what
are the odds in bad?
A couple of blocks away from the Steelworkers' hall, Kathy Norton stands
by her desk and shakes her head.
"It's been a real tough time here, and then this (the war), on top
of it," she says.
Norton gets it with both barrels. She works in the local
economic-development office for people trying to turn Goldendale back upright.
And her bookshelf is adorned with photos of her son, Dennis, 27, a member of
the Army's V Corps perched on the outskirts of Baghdad.
Her husband, Don, lost his aluminum job last May. Today, he works a mill
job for Louisiana Pacific - 200 miles and a mountain range away, in Tacoma.
The Nortons meet up on weekends. It's not perfect. It's reality.
And relief, realistically, is years away.
"Losing the aluminum plant will be terrible," Norton concedes.
"People will never see those kind of wages again."
A scant few get lucky. Krueger snared a hydropower job with the US Army
Corps of Engineers. Most of his fellow workers take community-college
retraining courses, then leave the area for other jobs. Some just fade out of
sight, simply walking away from mortgages.
"Some of these people have lived
and worked here their whole entire lives," laments Dix, a nursing
assistant unable to find work in the area. "Where do
Nobody has good answers. But many here believe their problems are caused
by a federal-government betrayal so monumental that it requires a federal
They wait and write letters and try to muster hope. The war rages on in
Iraq, and people in Klickitat County watch on satellite TV as the nation pulls
They understand why war is on everybody's front burner, and that it will
stay there for now.
But they fear that when it's all over, the attention of Washington,
D.C., will simply drift, as it usually does, somewhere else, far away from the
stunning place where the Cascades meet the Columbia.
It's all a matter of national priorities. And the people of Goldendale
are getting quite accustomed to not being one of them.
Ron C. Judd. 206-464-8280, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Harley Soltes: 206
464-8145, or email@example.com