National guard, incompetence, the war on the poverty-stricken
September 28, 2005
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have devastated not only the Gulf Coast region of America, they have exposed the incompetence of the entire Bush administration and the meanness of the Republicans in control of Congress. This nation has suffered FEMA and DHS heads with no experience to hold their high-paying jobs, with devastating results. National Guard units have been deployed overseas when they should have been standing ready at home. The prevailing-wage provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act have been suspended in the disaster areas. And now the Republicans attacking the poor by threatening to cut essential services to the needy, in lieu of rescinding tax cuts for the wealthy, to pay for the hurricane clean-up and reconstruction.
FEMA and DHS
You would think the Bush administration, which hauls out "the lessons we learned in 9/11" at every opportunity, would have made at least some effort to put top-grade, talented, experienced people at the heads of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the newly-created Department of Homeland Security. But no, Bush treated those jobs as political spoils. With the blessing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, chaired by Susan Collins, these critical jobs went to Bush friends, political hacks, and Republican campaign contributors, people with no experience in emergency management or security.
If I were a U.S. Senator, I would sponsor a Senate bill, a companion to the House Anti-Cronyism and Public Safety Act, submitted Sept. 27, 2005 by Reps. Henry Waxman and Nancy Pelosi. That bill would prohibit the President from appointing unqualified individuals to critical public safety positions in the government. It is outrageous that such a law is needed, but as Hurricane Katrina painfully demonstrated, that is clearly the case.
George Bush had the perfect opportunity to help end the fiasco in Iraq, by declaring a national emergency so great - as this one surely was - that it necessitated bringing ALL the National Guard troops home from Iraq immediately to help out. Since the Guard makes up about 40 percent of the 140,000 troops now in Iraq, that would have solved two problems at the same time. It would have moved into the Gulf region a great mass of people who had been trained specifically for disasters such as hurricanes. And it would have smoothed the way for a quick withdrawal of the rest of the troops from the quagmire in Iraq, once that first withdrawal was complete.
But not only did Bush not call the Guard home, he has proposed having the active military take over the emergency response activities of FEMA and the Homeland Security Department.
Congress must refuse to go along with this outrageous proposal. Not only that, Congress should immediately revisit the statutes that allow the Chief Executive to order National Guard troops to serve overseas. National Guard units should be under the complete control of the governor of their home states, and should be used only for domestic purposes, responding in emergency situations, and called into service for appropriate public works.
PROTECT WORKER RIGHTS
Finally in the list of bad moves the President has made recently, there's George Bush's unconscionable rescinding of the Davis-Bacon act for the hurricane disaster relief and recovery effort. This long-standing federal law requires government contractors to pay prevailing wages to workers hired to do government work. Before the hurricane, prevailing wages for construction work in the Gulf were already low - in the $9 an hour range. Now Bush has given no-bid contractors like Halliburton the right to exploit those who lost their jobs by paying them less than prevailing wages. That means more money into the pockets of the companies and their stockholders, and less money into the hands of the real workers trying to rebuild their lives and their communities. It's one more Bush administration assault on the poor and less fortunate, and Congress should put an immediate stop to it.
TAX CUTS? WHAT TAX CUTS?
The costs for the Iraq war have devastated the federal budget. And now we are facing an equally heavy burden to rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The budget-busting tax cuts for the rich that the Republican Congress approved a few years ago are a major reason we face a financial abyss.
Who will pay for these added expenses? According to the Republicans in Congress, it will NOT be the wealthy, the people most able to pay their fair share. It will be the poor, the elderly, and the disabled. Here are just some of the most egregious of their proposed cuts:
As a first step, Congress should cut the semantics, and rescind the tax cuts on the wealthy. Then it should step back from any attempt to repeal the once-in-a-lifetime Estate Tax assessed on multi-millionaires as their accumulated assets move from one generation to the next. And then it should look further to see if MORE taxes in the upper income brackets are needed to pay for the Iraq war and the hurricane damage.
- $225 billion cut from Medicaid.
- $200 billion cut from Medicare
- $25 billion cut from the Centers for Disease Control
- $6.7 billion cut from school lunches for poor children
- $7.5 billion cut from programs to fight global AIDS
- $5.5 billion to eliminate all funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
- $3.6 billion cut to eliminate the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities
- $8.5 billion cut to eliminate all subsidized loans to graduate students.
- $2.5 billion cut from Amtrak - $2.5 billion to eliminate the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative
- $417 million cut to eliminate the Minority Business Development Agency
- $4.8 billion cut to eliminate all funding for the Safe and Drug-Free schools program.
This trashing of America has got to stop.