Congress hits easy scapegoat
Hold the applause on welfare "reform."
Welfare is perhaps the least popular vestige of the New Deal, and the best
thing that can be said of its revamping is that taxpayers demanded it. But
if the old system encourages dependence, as critics contend, the replacement
- to which overriding majorities in Congress and the President finally agreed
- appears mean-spirited and underfunded for its stated goal of transferring
the jobless from welfare to work.
Clinton in 1994 had proposed to put many welfare recipients to work, but
that plan earmarked $2 billion for training, child care, health care and
other transition programs. Instead, according to the Urban Institute, as
reported in the New York Times, the new law will cut the budget for major
assistance programs by $15 billion annually (roughly one-fifth) when it
is fully put into effect in 2002. Transition costs are left up to the states.
Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, a liberal New York Democrat who recognizes the
need to reform welfare, nevertheless denounced the moves to strictly limit
benefits as "welfare repeal" and "a social risk no sane person
would take." His warnings went unheeded in the bipartisan stampede
to crack down on welfare recipients before the election.
Who benefits from welfare reform?
· Rich people for whom Congress can use the savings to help pay for
the long-awaited cut in the capital gains tax. They also will enjoy less
inflation because of all those poor folks competing for the same limited
number of jobs.
· Employers, particularly in service industries, who will have more
people applying for jobs, which will put a damper on wages and drive down
· Republicans, who will get credit from the middle class for cracking
down on welfare, while the poor folks resent the Democrats for caving in.
Also expect law enforcement and private security firms to see an increase
in business as those who cannot find jobs, because the Federal Reserve Board
won't let unemployment get below 5%, figure out that the only rational alternative
Who stands to lose from welfare reform?
· Blue-collar workers who, after they get "downsized" by
their current employers, will be competing with former welfare moms for
· Retailers in low-income neighborhoods, particularly grocers, whose
customers will have less disposable income.
· Kids whose benefits will be cut off because their folks cannot (or
will not) find a job.
· Immigrants who will be ineligible for welfare benefits, even if they
are in this country legally.
· States, counties and municipalities that will have the responsibility
of taking care of those welfare needs the feds walk away from.
· Churches, upon which the burden will fall to take care of those the
state and local governments can't or won't help.
· Middle-class people with consciences, who will feel pressure to increase
their charitable giving to make up for the skinflints.
Before its members decamped for the August recess, Congress passed some
good bills to expand access to health insurance, raise the minimum wage
with tax cuts designed to help small businesses and updated drinking water
rules. This after catering to big business in revamping telecommunications
regulations and farm programs earlier in the year.
When it returns in September, Congress will have opportunity for further
mischief when it takes up final action on immigration "reform,"
revamps housing programs and drafts a new set of draconian measures to counter
The anti-terrorism bill threatens further erosion of privacy and civil liberties
as Clinton pushes to give the FBI more leeway in wiretapping and other tools
to combat potential terrorists as well as compile dossiers. God help us,
Newt Gingrich may be the best hope for reason in that fight.
Stake a Socialist
If you want to help raise some hell this election season, send a few bucks
to the Socialist Party USA to support Mary Cal Hollis' campaign for President.
Hollis, a 44-year-old special education teacher from Boulder, Colo., hopes
to raise $5,000 from at least 20 different states in this election year.
Not only would that net the Socialist Party $100,000, but it would qualify
the Socialists for matching federal funds. A hundred thousand might be a
paltry sum in the world of high-dollar politics, but it would be a boon
to the frugal Socialists and you'd have the added satisfaction of driving
right-wingers nuts at the thought of their tax pennies going toward Socialist
propaganda! (The party already has raised $30,000.)
Hollis, who recently made a campaign swing through Austin, joked that her
entire campaign budget wouldn't get Clinton, Dole or even Ross Perot very
far; she drives most places in her un-air-conditioned compact car. Once,
she said, when the campaign sprang for an airline ticket, she missed a connection
and had to spend the night on the floor of DFW Airport - and the Socialist
candidate gets no Secret Service agents to watch her baggage. She saves
money by staying with friends and fellow Socialists on the road, meeting
some "really wonderful people" along the way.
And she has had success in getting radio and local press coverage. "It's
been a real education for me and a chance to educate other people,"
she said, as she details the Socialist platform. Among other things, it
calls for universal health care, a living wage for workers, equal access
to public education, workers rights in a global economy, a safe environment,
corporate accountability, an end to privatization and a sustainable economy,
including aid for family farms and agricultural cooperatives.
Hollis started out with the Democratic Socialists of America, which is aligned
with the Democratic Party. Later she joined the Socialist Party, which pursues
its own electoral goals (and is not to be confused with the more militant
and Marxist Socialist Workers Party). She worked in the Socialist Party
office in New York for seven weeks in 1995. She made enough of an impression
that when the party met in convention last October in Cambridge, Mass.,
a friend nominated her for president. She was back in Colorado and the last
she had heard they were going to put her up for vice president; they didn't
tell her about the switch for four days. She joked that the first word she
got of her nomination was from "capitalists wanting to sell me banners."
In addition to raising money, she hopes to get the party onto ballots, with
a target of 15-20 states for this election. In states such as Texas, where
restrictive laws are designed to keep parties off the ballot, she will register
as a write-in candidate so that votes for her will be counted.
She also hopes to get various groups on the Left working together, just
as groups on the Right have joined forces. "There's an old saying that
when the Left forms a firing squad, they stand in a circle," she said.
"All the left groups realize that we need a coalition. We just haven't
found a vehicle yet."
Hollis, who also is a member of the Green Party, professes to admire Ralph
Nader, who has allowed the Green Party to run him as President. "I
admire his attempts to shake up the Democratic Party and his criticism of
corporate welfare and accountability," she said. "What's unfortunate
about it is he's not running an active campaign."
As summer comes to a close, Hollis was prepared to get back to her full-time
job at a Boulder middle school. Her running mate, Boston author Eric Chester,
is expected to take up the campaign duties after recovering from a car wreck.
"I wish I had more time to spend on the campaign," she said, "but
I have to make a living."
For more information on the Socialist Party USA, call 212-691-0776 or write
"Hollis/Chester 1996," 516 W. 25th St. #404, New York, NY 10001.
Buy locally or not at all
A group in Vancouver, Canada, is sponsoring a 24-hour moratorium on consumer
spending in the fifth annual Buy Nothing Day on Sept. 24. "Buy Nothing
Day is a completely grassroots movement. Its only goal is to remind the
consumer that he or she has the power to direct the actions of the marketplace,
and our tools are largely word of mouth and good intentions," the sponsors
state. This year Buy Nothing Day has a web
site featuring information on the event.
While we support the idea, we propose that "Buy Nothing Day" be
followed by "Buy Independent Week" Sept. 25 through Oct. 3, during
which time consumers should not patronize businesses that are owned by corporate
chains. No Wal-marts, K-marts or Targets. Drop your Gannett or Knight-Ridder
newspapers, at least for a week, or until they settle their year-old strike
in Detroit. Find a locally owned grocery, a mom-and-pop shoe store, an old-fashioned
hardware store where you can buy one nail if you only need one nail. Support
them before they become extinct. And of course renew your subscription to
the Progressive Populist.
-- Jim Cullen
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