As the deadline looms for Congress to agree on a budget plan that would avoid an automatic series of spending cuts, a coalition of worker rights', veteran and anti-poverty advocates convened at Federal Plaza Thursday to voice their concerns over the potential negative impact such a move would have for the most vulnerable Americans.
More than $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade, known as sequestration, are set to go into effect March 1. According to a report released last September by the White House Office of Management and Budget, reductions would be made across the board, impacting more than 1,200 agencies and programs.
Singing such tunes as “Stop in the Name of Love”, some 40 to 50 protesters stood in the cold to give what organizers described as a “Valentine’s Day message” to both Illinois Democrat U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk to preserve funding for the country’s social safety net.
“Don’t break our hearts,” said Mary Zerkel, a national coordinator for American Friends Service Committee, which organized the event. “We need jobs not cuts.”
Zerkel said cuts made as a part of the sequester would be devastating to Illinois, causing as more than 800 workers to lose their jobs due to cuts in the Head Start program alone while the state would stand to lose roughly $493 million in Medicaid funding if a 5 percent cut to the program goes through as planned.
“These cuts would devastate working families, children, immigrants and seniors,” said Kristina Tendilla, a director with Benton House Community Outreach Center located on the Chicago’s South Side. “Many of whom were forced to seek social services for the first time since the big banks and Wall Street tanked our economy.”
Demonstrators called on the lawmakers to support concentrating the brunt of the cuts on military spending, which according to Zerkel has seen its budget increase by 42 percent since 2000 while the budgets for social programs only grew by 14 percent during that time.
“We have to now connect the military to economic strife at home,” said Vince Emanuele, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. “It’s been four or five years since the financial collapse, and I have heard a lot of conversation about corporate taxation and financial regulation, but the one elephant in the room that we refuse to talk about is military spending.”
Here is a look at the event, including more from Zerkel, Tendilla and Emanuele:
Negotiations over the budget have stalled for more than a year, with Democrats and Republicans unable to come to a compromise over a plan that would help reduce the federal deficit over the next ten years.
Democrats have called for a combination of cuts with a rise in tax rates for households with incomes exceeding $250,000 a year, while GOP lawmakers have opposed any raise in taxes.
This week, Senate Democrats proposed a plan that would delay the automatic cuts for 10 months, replace it with $110 billion in cuts to defense spending, and require that the nation's top earners pay a minimum tax rate of 30 percent. Republicans are unlikely to accept such a proposal because of their opposition to raising taxes on the rich.