The Tennessean: Lawmakers bump heads on debt ceiling

Debate Distracts from Unfair Tax Cuts, Lack of Jobs
Tennessean, June 7, 2011 by Mary Mancini

Debt ceiling, schmebt ceiling. Will Congress just raise it already so we can start the conversation that we should be having: “What are the real solutions that will put Americans back to work?”

In June 2001, President George W. Bush signed a bill cutting taxes by $1.35 trillion over 10 years. Now, 10 years and $2.5 trillion later, it’s hard to find any evidence that these tax cuts created the prosperity that was promised.

Tennessee’s unemployment rate in June 2001 was 4.6 percent. Today, the seasonally adjusted rate is more than double that, 9.6 percent. Nationwide, the unemployment rate then was 4.7 percent. Today, it is 9.1 percent.

A few people, the super-rich, are better off. According to new figures released by Citizens for Tax Justice, the wealthiest 1 percent of Tennessee residents, who will have an average income of just over $1 million in 2013, would receive an average tax cut of $57,428 in that year.

In contrast, the poorest 60 percent of the state’s residents, with an average income of $26,459, would receive a tax cut of just $503 in 2013. To put that number into perspective, the average American household pays $300 a month just to fill their gas tank. Fair? Hardly.

At the end of last year, supporters of Bush’s policies pushed through an extension of his tax cuts for another two years. Many say they want to extend the tax cuts again into 2013 and beyond, which would almost double the federal deficit. These are the same lawmakers who claim that the deficit forces them to slash public services.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a budget that would cut trillions of dollars in essential services like Medicare while giving trillions of dollars in additional tax cuts to the super-rich and to corporations in the form of lower rates, exemptions and loopholes. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan calls this approach a pathway to prosperity. We call it a road to ruin.

So I ask again, when will we start focusing on what really matters: putting Tennesseans back to work and rebuilding a strong middle class? When will we once again focus on creating good-paying jobs with solid benefits to help middle-class families reclaim their security and give low-income families the opportunity and mobility to move into the middle class? When will we realize that we can prosper only by building an America that works for all of us?Congress should commemorate this historic 10th anniversary of the tax cuts by first stop using the debt ceiling as a political football and start concentrating on what they really need to do to invest in America families.

Passing Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s Fairness in Taxation Act, which taxes millionaires and billionaires and closes corporate loopholes that allow corporations to profit when they ship jobs and profits overseas, would be a good first step.

We must learn from our history and get our priorities in order. While we can’t go back and change June 2001, we can look work for a prosperous tomorrow. We can reclaim hope and opportunity for our state and for our nation.

Mary Mancini is executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, a nonprofit, community-based public interest and consumer rights organization.

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