The GOP’s Spirit Of Giving-And Taking
U.S Rep Gary Ackerman spends some quality time with Max, his grandson.
By GARY ACKERMAN
With all the weighty problems facing the country still not resolved, the Congress last week took time, before adjourning for the year, to debate (and pass) a bill to “protect the SYMBOLS of Christmas.” The sponsors refused to allow amendments to protect the symbols of other religions.
To My Grandson, 8 months old, on his first holiday...er Christmas season:
I’m sure you’re wondering what Grandpa has been doing in the Congress over the past few weeks during the winter holidays. As America watched the Republican-led Congress fight ferociously and bravely against the big, bad, so-called “attack-on-Christmas,” the GOP grinch ran off with the poor box. The red (and green) herring was a House resolution to protect the “symbols of Christmas.” The real game was murdering the “sprit of Christmas”: They stole from the needy and gave to the very rich.
You see Max, Washington is a funny place, where people passionately profess one set of values—values that presume caring for the “least” of our brothers, loving our neighbors as ourselves, charity, mercy and kindness—and then they deliver indifference, contempt and heartlessness. In the “season of giving,” Congress has been busy playing Robin Hood in reverse. But lest anyone think the Capitol is not in the holiday mood, we did throw caution to the wind and voted overwhelmingly to protect the “symbols,” if not the substance of Christmas. In Congress, the spirit is willing if the test is weak.
Having taken that bold but meaningless step, the GOP Congress sallied forth to put their piety into practice. It’s better to give than to receive so they gave themselves and their wealthy friends billions of dollars in tax savings. They happily received these gifts from the poor, the needy, the elderly, the hard working and struggling middle class who didn’t know they were giving but nonetheless will now have even less than last year.
So, under the proverbial tree and behind the metaphorical menorah this year, there will be less money for the education of America’s boys and girls. $80 million less from the Head Start program, which enables children to start school. $779 million less from the Educational Technology Program that would eliminate the digital divide between America’s haves and her have-nots, and President Bush’s No Child Left Behind program. The fit of charitable rage by the President’s GOP allies will result in 3.1 million children not getting the help with reading and math they were promised. Seems like a lot of kids will get “more behind” as the Republicans get more generous with those they push further ahead.
And, having drawn the line against maligning Santa Claus, what can America’s college students expect from the righteous Republican Congress? Usury. Student loans will now cost about $5,800 more per student, and the interest rate will go from a fixed 6.8 percent to a maximum of 8.25 percent. Pell Grants, Perkins Grants and College Work Study programs were all cut as well. And, in the spirit of the season, Congress added additional fees for student loans and an effective $2.5 billion tax hike on students seeking to consolidate their loans. Someone has to pay for tax cuts. Ho-ho-ho! Uncle Sam has morphed into Uncle Scrooge.
The holidays are always tough times for the sick anyway so the Republican Congress, filled with the holiday spirit, was moved to act. Unfortunately, the holiday spirit, in question was that of Christmas yet to come. The 46 million Americans without health insurance will be asked to celebrate an $83 million cut from the Healthy Communities Access program which makes grants to hospitals and clinics to help the uninsured. No gift wrapping needed there.
America’s children get the ‘gift’ of a $24 million cut in the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant program that helps provide prenatal care for mothers, and preventive health services and medical treatment for children, including children with disabilities and other special needs, such as Tiny Tim who lack other sources of heath care. “Suffer the little children” is now official policy.
Programs to train health professionals were slashed by $205 million. Medicaid, the program to pay for healthcare for America’s poor, had $420 million hacked off, which means all the “naughty” children—the ones who decided to go ahead and get sick and then have parents unable to afford their share of medical bills—will have to rely on the benefit of prayer, as hospitals may be turning them away.
I’m afraid we lost the fight to meet the $200 million shortfall in the Low Income Heating Assistance Program. “Honor thy father and mother” doesn’t mean they deserve heat. Consequently, some grandmas and grandpas, particularly those on fixed incomes, will enjoy the “honor” of choosing between food and heat this winter. Unless, of course, they depend on senior’s nutrition programs, such as Meals on Wheels. Even though food and gasoline costs are rising sharply, the GOP Congress froze funding for this program as well. After all, what are the holidays without hungry people to pity?
Good will toward men apparently doesn’t entail Child Care Block Grants that help parents afford the child care they need in order to go to work. Likewise, the Community Services Block Grant program, which provides job training and placement, emergency assistance with food, weatherization, adult literacy and child care for those who are trying to improve. Keep in mind, Max, we’re trying to preserve symbols here.
Inspired by Nativity scenes, the Republican Congress has put its back to the task of sending more people out to sleep in the manger. The Section 8 Housing program that provides rental assistance for the working poor gets a $120 million cut; the HOPE VI grant program to revitalize public housing, a $43 million cut; the Public Housing Capital fund, a $115 million cut; and the Community Development Fund and Block Grant program, which seeks to ensure decent affordable housing for all, a $530 million cut. So, to all those Americans unable find a decent place to call home, you can thank the GOP Congress for not only saving the Creche as a symbol, but in restoring it to its proper place as a form of housing.
Thinking about the “Good News?” The GOP Congress has this “good news” for those looking for work: a cut of $66 million from adult and youth training grants, $91 million from Federal Unemployment Benefits, and $245 million from State Unemployment Insurance and employment service programs that help people find new jobs. Joy to the world!
But the real joy of giving this time of the year belongs principally to children; and it is the children that the GOP blessed by demanding they give the most. Children in foster care were allowed to give up $600 million. The boys and girls depending on food stamps, the federal program that helps make sure that no American child goes hungry, gave to the tune of $700 million.
Having worked themselves into a frenzy to save Rudolf and the reindeer, the Republican Majority took $4.9 billion from the enforcement of child support orders that prevent parents from walking away from their responsibilities. As for the $700 million cut from Supplemental Security Income, consider a further gift from the cash assistance program designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people struggling to meet their basic needs for food, clothing and shelter. Let them eat mistletoe (it’s protected)!
But moved as it was by the spirit of charity, the Republican Congress came up with a new beatitude: Blessed are the rich, for they shall contribute to our campaigns. Accordingly, a present for those who were nice: a $70 billion tax cut in corporate dividends and capital gains. America’s millionaires will save each about $32,000 on this alone. God helps those who help themselves. And boy did they help themselves.
’Tis better to give than to receive. The poor gave, the rich received. The poor are therefore better off. Hope they appreciate what Congress has done for them. All that giving and still have the “symbols” of Christmas (by a vote of 401-22).
It’s Washington Max, where the sick and the poor and the weak get the sizzle and the healthy, wealthy and strong get the steak. Where the poor get the symbols, the rich the substance. But fear not, Max. We have protected shoppers from those who say “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” We saved the spirit. Humbug indeed.
Gary Ackerman is a United States Congressman from Queens County and also the founder of the Queens Tribune.