Unholy Week: Senate Votes Complete A Portrait Of Wrong Priorities

Isaiah J. Poole

We’re about to enter what is on many Christian calendars Holy Week. We need to, because it certainly has been an unholy week here in Washington.

Both the House and Senate have now passed budget resolutions that offer comfort and protection to the wealthy and powerful and more discomfort and vulnerability to everyone else.

What else can you say about a series of votes in the Senate that ended with a majority of senators voting to eliminate the estate tax, a tax that literally affects fewer than 4,000 of the nation’s richest households, while voting to cut programs that serve millions low- and moderate-income people by more than $3 trillion? It really doesn’t get much more unholy than that.

There has been some press coverage about some modestly positive surprises that came out of the series of Senate budget votes: bipartisan support for the idea of mandating paid sick leave and for guaranteeing Social Security benefits for same-sex couples who live in states where gay marriage is not recognized.

But the priorities that these budgets set are striking in their repudiation of the sane, the sensible and the compassionate.

Just consider the votes in the Senate in the past couple of days. Senate Republicans said no to requiring polluters to pay a carbon tax, and no to penalizing states for defying Environmental Protection Agency rules on reducing power-plant pollution emissions. They also said no to increasing funding for Medicare and Medicaid programs, and for more money for Pell Grants for college students. (For more, read this earlier post on the Senate votes. Also, read “Five Ways the GOP Budget Will Harm American Families.”)

Republicans on both sides of the Capitol were united in saying that they would abolish Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, presumably replacing it with some plan they would euphemistically call “patient-centered” to distract from its real essence, which is to leave people contending on their own against a profits-mad health-care colossus.

“Fortunately for the country, the Republican budget will not become law,” Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader, said after the series of votes Friday morning. That is true, but these votes are consequential. They certainly set the tone for the work legislative committees will undertake in the coming weeks, and they set the stage for an inevitable veto confrontation with the White House, and what will follow.

Ultimately, votes like these become part of the dialogue about what kind of America we want to have in the years ahead. Even if the eventual budget for the government does not follow all of the contours of what the Republicans approved this week, they have already succeeded in constricting the federal government’s ability to ensure that the economy works for everyone, and that it doesn’t remain rigged for the benefit of the powerful.

It will take a lot of organizing in the coming months to build a people’s movement formidable enough to undo the damage, and it will take time. One step in that process will take place next month at the Populism 2015 conference, where the Campaign for America’s Future will join with National People’s Action, USAction and Alliance for a Just Society to plot actions at the national state and local level to build momentum for a progressive populist platform going into the 2016 elections and beyond.

Now that both chambers of Congress have spoken with a budget that so dramatically perverts what our national priorities should be, the real work of rallying people around a better vision for America begins.

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