Activists warn against across the board federal spending cuts

01/31/13 Janelle Irwin
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Looming cuts to domestic spending could impact millions of Americans if lawmakers don’t agree on a plan to avoid the so-called sequester. A group of labor activists and students who spoke in front of Senator Marco Rubio’s Tampa office Wednesday want him to look toward revenue not austerity.

As part of the deal at the end of last year to continue tax cuts for people earning less than $450,000, lawmakers postponed a series of sweeping budget cuts. Now they are back to the drawing board as the March 1st deadline for those spending cuts approaches. But instead of cutting services that are relied on mostly by lower income and middle class Americans, Shelby Salesky, a USF junior wants the government to look for new ways to earn money.

“Big cat corporations are going without paying their fair share of taxes while hard working Americans are giving every cent that the possibly can to not only take care of their families, but now take care of the federal government to make sure Social Security is still there and Medicare and Medicaid when I’m sure a lot of those people are recipients of it themselves. The poor are paying more while the rich aren’t feeling it the way we are.”

The plan hashed out during fiscal cliff negotiations at the end of last year also increased payroll taxes. Dustin Ponder works part time loading packages into trucks for UPS. He said he can’t afford the loss.

“Myself and all my co-workers, we just took a 2% pay cut – our payroll tax went up 2% and I only make about $200 a week so that’s a huge amount out of my paycheck that goes to my daily needs – food, rent, car insurance, things like that.”

Lawmakers agreed to temporarily let the government borrow more money even though it exceeds the set debt limit. But that did little to wane bickering over government spending in Washington between Democrats and Republicans. Ponder said he doesn’t think there should even be an argument.

“I think it’s an artificial crisis that they’ve put out as a means to justify cutting these services and raising taxes on working people. I think a bigger question right now is unemployment, good paying jobs for Americans – if you solve those problems, we’ll have solved the debt crisis.”

Republicans want spending cuts, but Kevin King, political director for the group People Improving Communities through Organizing said that could come back to haunt the GOP.

“The Republican party is going to have to be real careful here because this is the party that has tried to have the mantle of national security and defense for so long. There are a lot of defense cuts in sequestration. So, there’s going to be a bit of game playing going on and – as it always is in Washington, who can call whose bluff and what not – but sequestration is on the table – it’s a scary thing too.”

Increasing individual taxes isn’t the only way to boost revenue and avoid the March 1st spending cuts. Former Florida Representative Rick Kriseman, a Democrat said the Senators and members of Congress need to look at fairness.

“that’s closing loopholes, that’s collecting and stopping giving the tax breaks to the oil companies that are making record profits, it’s telling companies like GE, ‘we’re glad you’re making a profit, but you need to pay your fair share of taxes too.’ I think until you do those things, to start talking about cuts to Medicare, to Medicaid, to Social Security is not right, it’s not fair, it’s morally wrong.”

The two legislative branches have a track record for putting decisions about the budget off until the last minute. Kriseman said he hopes a deal is reached that avoids painful spending cuts.

“But when you hear some of the positions our elected officials are taking, it makes you really pause and be concerned that we’re just going to kick the can again.”

The $1.2 trillion across the board cuts would spread among domestic programs and military spending. Entitlement programs like Social Security would be exempt. If the mandatory spending cuts happen, some lawmakers expect major job losses.

Senator Marco Rubio's office did not respond to interview requests.

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