Grassroots Groups to Durbin: Tax the Rich & Wall Street, Hands Off Vital Safety Net Programs

Community residents say cuts to New Deal era and domestic programs will plunge economy back into full-blown recession, create dire conditions for seniors, disabled, working families.  

CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–December 6, 2012. Local grassroots organizations erected a “Durbinville” shantytown today outside Senator Dick Durbin’s office to protest his support for massive budget cuts as part of deal-making with Republicans to reduce the deficit.  Four people were arrested for attempting to set up a second mini-shantytown inside the lobby of the Kluczynski Federal Building where Senator Dick Durbin has his Chicago office.  Instead of requiring Wall Street and big corporations to pay their fair share in taxes, Durbin is advocating cuts to economic safety net programs like Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and government responsibilities like education and food safety inspections. The shantytown was erected in the Federal Plaza, next to Durbin’s office in the Kluczynski Federal Building, by a coalition that represents people at the grassroots level, including senior citizens, students, working people and the long-term unemployed from all walks of life and areas of the metro region.

After refusing to relent for months in meetings with local grassroots leaders, Durbin agreed in late November to move away from Social Security cuts in current budget negotiations. This coalition is committed to pressing Durbin publicly until he guarantees to protect vital economic safety net programs and government responsibilities in this and future rounds of budget negotiations.  

Durbin, who’s steering budget negotiations for the Obama administration, has stated a willingness to balance the federal budget by cutting Medicare, Medicaid and other domestic programs. Although Durbin and Obama say they are willing to let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans expire in an effort to raise revenue, they still insist there must be $3-4 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade — with a huge portion of those funds coming out of economic safety net and other public programs. Grassroots leaders argue that — even though voters decisively rejected Paul Ryan’s plan for austerity on election day – Obama and Durbin are now serving up a “Ryan-light” budget with deep cuts to programs that Americans hold dear, have paid for and desperately need.  

There is an alternative, say grassroots leaders, who call instead for pushing the wealthy and Wall Street to pay their fair share – above and beyond letting the Bush Tax Cuts expire for the top 2%, and including a Financial Speculation Tax, restoring a robust estate tax, and increasing tax rates paid by millionaires and billionaires. Taxes were far higher on top incomes between World War II and 1975, with far more equal income distribution — and the American economy grew faster in the three decades after WWII than it’s grown since tax rates were slashed by Ronald Reagan in 1981. Those Reagan tax cuts were acutely compounded by George W. Bush’s tax cuts, the single largest contributor to today’s deficits, and further exacerbated by spending for US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Our generation stands at the precipice,” said Jacob Swenson, a 5th year PhD candidate in philosophy at the University of Chicago and a member of IIRON.  “Many of us have accrued record levels of debt in order to get a college education, only to find upon graduation that there are no jobs. Today more than 50% of college graduates are either jobless or underemployed. To make matters worse, economists have made clear that this joblessness will have a long term effect on our generation; our life-time earning potential will be permanently lowered.”

“Lets get something straight,” said Anne Marie Cunningham with the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, “Social Security is separate from the general budget, it is funded out of the payroll contributions of workers, and it has NOTHING to do with the deficit!  I’ve paid into Social Security for decades and expect to receive the benefits I’ve paid for and earned.”

“I’m a living example of what happens when government budgets are cut,” said Connie Gates-Brown, a leader in Northside P.O.W.E.R. “My husband and I both worked for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. Vance held his job for 23 years, and I held mine for 17. First, Vance’s entire unit was cut, and he lost his job. Six months later, my own department was merged with another state office and I was let go. I am still unemployed and Vance is working at a minimum wage job with no benefits. Our home is in foreclosure.”

The shantytown was erected by Make Wall Street Pay Illinois – whose members include IIRON, SOUL, Lakeview Action Coalition, & Northside P.O.W.E.R. – along with Occupy Chicago, Stand Up Chicago, Jane Addams Senior Caucus, American Friends Service Committee and other organizations as a way to make visible the hunger and suffering that budget cuts will create in their communities.

20 people were arrested on November 9 in Durbin’s office and in the lobby of the Kluczynski Building, at a protest that drew more than 400 to oppose Durbin’s role in negotiating safety net cuts on behalf of the Obama administration. Dozens more have vowed to risk arrest through acts of civil disobedience to oppose Durbin’s and the Obama administration’s commitments to making cuts in order to balance the budget.