November 19, 2012
Marc Bussanich

After the Thanksgiving recess Congressional representatives and President Obama will be meeting to try to reach an agreement to reduce the national deficit and prevent the country from driving over the fiscal cliff of expiring tax and activation of spending cuts. The President and Congressional leaders met after a photo-op at the White House on Friday and early indications are that the outlines of an agreement might include a combination of tax increases on the wealthy and slashing domestic spending.

But different organizations in New York have been protesting outside the offices of New York’s Congressional delegation to inform them that cuts to social programs and the safety net are not acceptable, particularly after Hurricane Sandy’s devastation. Members of the National People’s Action (NPA) and Vocal-NY rallied recently outside Senator Charles Schumer’s district office on 49th Street and 3rd Ave.

James Mumm, staff director for the NPA, said advocates and the 99% Pep Squad were there to cheer Senator Schumer as he goes back to Washington.

“The Senator back-pedaled on a pre-election position to raise taxes on the super wealthy to the 39.6 percent rate established under former President Clinton. He recently said that he’d accept a deal that leaves the current tax rate on the wealthy at 35 percent, while closing loopholes and eliminating deductions and tax credits. Why is Senator Schumer backtracking before the negotiations have started and why is he recanting his previous position?” said Mumm.

The group is calling on Congress to pass a Fair Deal for America, which includes fair taxation, investments in infrastructure, education, transportation, jobs, housing and health and protects Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Some of the measures that would fulfill the plan’s principles include ending the Bush-era tax cuts, ending preferential tax rates for income from stocks and bonds, increasing income tax rates for the very wealthy, restoring a robust estate tax and establishing a financial transaction tax on Wall Street trading.

“The very wealthy have been doing very well in this economy. They can afford to pay more than 39.6 percent. We should tax capital gains as income, because that’s what it is. We should increase the rate from 20 percent to at least 39.6 percent,” Mumm said.

Anna Valdez is a mother of three children and grandmother of two. She’s unemployed and receives public assistance to make ends meet. She’s tried to enroll her son in a Head Start program, but she was told that there’s a long waiting list because many slots have been cut.

“Reducing the number of available slots takes away opportunity for both the child and parent. How is a parent supposed to work if they don’t have access to affordable child care? Senator Schumer needs to realize that the very wealthy have to pay their fair share of taxes to help the economy and pay for the programs that help people get back on their feet,” said Valdez.

In the New Dorp section of Staten Island, one of the areas hardest hit by Sandy and where nurses of the New York State Nurses Association have been canvassing neighborhoods to treat residents suffering from neglect, members of ALIGN, Vocal-NY and Occupy Sandy Recovery gathered outside recently the offices of Congressman Michael Grimm to call on him to prevent potentially devastating safety net cuts.

The Congressman voted for the Republican budget proposal, The Path to Prosperity, drafted by Congressman Paul Ryan, causing concern that he might vote again for only spending cuts to reduce the deficit.

But Kristi Barnes, Communications Director for ALIGN, a coalition building organization, noted that the political landscape has significantly shifted post-election and post-Sandy.

“There’s now an opportunity for Grimm to separate himself from his vote for the Ryan budget. Staten Island used to be considered a no-brain win for Republicans, but Obama pulled out a victory there and Grimm squeaked by. We hope the Congressman takes a more independent stand from the rest of the Republican caucus.”

Republicans have said that reducing the deficit requires cuts in discretionary and non-discretionary spending, but they’ve been reluctant to raise revenue via tax increases. Democrats have said that reducing the deficit can’t be achieved with cuts alone, which implies their willingness to accept cuts if Republicans agree to tax increases on the very wealthy.

“That some Democrats are willing to make deep cuts concerns us. The election convincingly illustrated that people voted their values—preserving the social safety net and rejecting radical Ryan budget proposals. Now is the time for advocates to be pressing not only Republicans such as Grimm but all of our representatives,” said Barnes.


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