by Ben Palumbo
Washington DC, October 26, 2012
The now famous, or infamous, Ryan budget endorsed by Mitt Romney (though he now says he has his own), has been roundly, and rightly, criticized for its assault on the poor in favor of the richest Americans; and boy are they rich!!
Young Mr. Ryan--he did not want to be called Congressman during his debate with Vice President Biden for fear of being tarred by the brush of the Republicans' miserable Congressional reputation--argues that he cares for the poor. He says his budget is in tune with the social teaching of the Catholic Church of which he is a member, although it would decimate help for those who otherwise would go hungry, suffer sickness, lose jobs, be evicted from their homes, or miss college opportunity. Unfortunately for him, his argument has been refuted by the USCCB, a large portion of the faculty of Georgetown University, and most recently in a splendid document prepared by 100 Catholic theologians and academics from around the country called, "On All Our Shoulders." No amount of phony photo ops of him washing pots at soup kitchens will change the reality of his hypocrisy.
It is absolutely right to denounce this budget for turning its back on the Church's "preferential option for the poor"; and for its assault on "The least…" about whom Jesus was so concerned and whom he loved so much. What that budget(s) would do to the most vulnerable is a moral travesty. But what about the impact on the rest of us who are fortunate enough not to be among those in need of government assistance? Or do we in fact need government assistance? To answer that question it is useful to remember that our health and safety depends on a group of U.S. regulatory agencies; a shocking thought isn't it. But recall James Madison's words: "If men were angels, we wouldn't need laws." And the friends of Romney and Ryan to whom they are obligated are not angels.
If anything like the Ryan-Romney budget(s) were to take effect, Americans can be sure that the risks from contaminated food and medicine will rise. Why? Because the budget of the Food and Drug Administration will be cut, meaning the people necessary to do the inspections to prevent corporate misfeasance or malfeasance will be reduced. Every year thousands are made ill and many die from this type of contamination; there will be more under Ryan-Romney.
U.S. consumers, particularly children, are protected from defective products by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Thousands of lives have been spared from the scourge of lead poison and other product defects by this agency. But now thousands will be at risk as the Ryan-Romney budget(s) of that agency will be cut and the needed personnel reduced.
Workers in the U.S. are afforded a measure of protection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration. But how will that safety be assured when the number of inspectors necessary to the mission of these agencies is reduced? Remember the deaths at the Upper Big Branch coal mine not so long ago? That mine had scores, if not hundreds, of safety violations. But MSHA had not the means for enforcement; it can barely keep up with its work load now. Look for more casualties caused by unsafe conditions in working places if the Ryan-Romney budget(s) prevail.
Every year 30,000 Americans die from guns; 11,000 of whom are murdered. Tens of thousands more are wounded. The annual NRA assault on the budget of the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives, which already makes it difficult for the agency to do its job of trying to protect us, will be intensified by the Ryan-Romney budget(s). Look for the slaughter to continue.
Want clear air and clean water? We can fully expect that funds available to carry out the duties of the EPA to protect us from air and water pollution will be savaged by Ryan-Romney budget(s). Our health depends on an effective EPA; Romney and Ryan depend on support from polluters. Just watch the video of Romney expressing joy over the closing of a coal-fired polluting power plant when he was governor of Massachusetts, and then contrast it with his present shilling on behalf of coal producers/polluters.
These are some examples of the dangers to our lives that will grow if Romney Ryan ticket was to prevail and their budget(s) put into place; which no doubt would happen. But what about our financial safety?
Because of the Romney-Ryan love affair with the uber-rich in the financial world, there is every reason to believe that a Romney-Ryan budget would reduce the resources of the Security and Exchange Commission at a time when the Commission is already struggling with a funding short-fall. The task of protecting us from the crooks and charlatans in the stock market will become almost impossible. And Romney already has made known his hostility to the financial reforms of the Dodd-Frank law. So can we be assured that the Romney-Ryan budget(s) will provide sufficient funds to those agencies designated to implement the reforms enacted to protect us? If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.
Which Republicans do Romney and Ryan resemble? They bear a striking resemblance to those who accepted a system in which the government would turn to financial titans like J.P. Morgan to bail out the government whenever it was in need; and make a handsome profit for doing it. They do not resemble Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt who understood the inordinate power wielded malignantly by the financial titans, and fought them as "The malefactors of great wealth." Those are the kinds of people to whom Romney and Ryan wish to turn our country over to.
And while comparing the Romneys, Ryans, and their Tea Party fellow travelers to other Republicans, let's look at one last, but by no means least, contrast: Infrastructure. Ours is in dire need of massive investment; there is no denying that. To provide that investment we need something called taxes, the very things the late Supreme Court Justice and prominent Republican Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said he "..did not mind paying because they buy civilization." An interesting contrast indeed. Yet the taxes we need for that investment have not been forthcoming because of mindless opposition to all taxes by Congressional Republicans and their right wing constituencies. The last time the gas tax which funds the Highway Trust Fund was increased was 1993, and it was not indexed for inflation; it will run out of funds in the not too distant future. In the meantime our roads, bridges and other means of transportation have been starved, putting all of us at risk and costing our economy billions.
Here is the Republican legacy on which Romney, Ryan and today's Republicans have turned their backs: (1) Alexander Hamilton, who was a major inspiration for the Republican Party, produced a "Report on American Manufacturers" while George Washington’s Treasury Secretary which called for subsidies for roads, canals and other internal improvements; (2) Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican President, whose initiative gave us The Transcontinental Railroad; (3) Republican President Teddy Roosevelt without whom The Panama Canal would not have been completed; (4) Republican President Calvin Coolidge from whom our national system of airports received its biggest boost; (5) Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower who gave us the interstate highway system; (6) and, Republican President Richard Nixon who continued our commitment to space exploration. Where would we be if these Republicans had not succeeded? The answer is obvious: the incalculable benefits of these enormous initiatives would have been lost, and our country would have been much the poorer as a result. It is so hard to believe that today's Republicans have turned their backs on this legacy. But they have.
So what can we expect from Romney, Ryan, et al.? Just look at the recent Republican record: opposition to funding for infrastructure; cancellation of high speed rail projects by several Republican governors; cancellation of the much needed new rail tunnel between NY and NJ by Romney surrogate Republican Governor Christie of NJ; unwillingness of congressional Republicans to pass a comprehensive long term transportation bill. In short, they oppose anything that would require funding irrespective of how great the country and most of its citizens will suffer.
A Romney-Ryan victory would be a prescription for accelerating the decline of America; it would be a huge danger to the health and safety of virtually all Americans; and it would further empower those of immense wealth and corporate muscle who would benefit mightily from that which would befall the rest of us.
Ben Palumbo is a veteran of Democratic politics, as a Senatorial chief of staff, national campaign director of the Bentsen for President campaign, and staff director of the Democratic Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives under Rep. Phillip Burton. He is on the board of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, the Children of God Relief Fund, and the John Mott Foundation.