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Social Services Under Siege

Rolling Back the 20th Century?

July 2003

Does it seem like social services are under siege? County program budgets are being slashed because of lack of funds, and the federal government says it is not going to help. The problem is not lack of money at the federal level. Instead of investing surpluses in public services, the Bush administration is giving money away to businesses and the wealthy in the form of tax cuts. One can’t help but wonder, are the reductions of services and the layoffs Local 535 members face being caused by the intentional bankrupting of county agencies? In an article in The Nation, May 12, 2003, “Rolling Back the 20th Century,” William Greider makes the case that the ultimate goal of the Bush administration and the neo-conservative right wing is to do away with all the social programs created during the last 100 years and return to a society similar to the 1900s of President William McKinley. “Hard-right conservatives see themselves as liberating reformers, not destroyers, who are rescuing old American virtues of self-reliance and individual autonomy from the clutches of collective action and ‘statist’ left-wingers,” Greider states. He goes on to describe their ultimate goals. Playing off the popular resentment toward big government, they will enact a right-wing “new deal” that will include:

•Elimination of federal taxation of private capital, including dismantling the progressive income tax system and shifting to a flat-tax and taxes on consumption.

•Phasing out the pension-fund retirement system, starting with privatizing social security, converting public-employee funds to individual retirement accounts, and setting up a system in which employers would no longer be encouraged to contribute to workers’ pension funds. The pension fund retirement system would be replaced by a private bank account system in which everyone would have to fend for themselves.

•Vastly increasing faith-based programs to the point that church-run schools and cultural programs would get government funding equal to that of the public school system.

•Slashing regulatory agencies and their power to make businesses accountable to the public good.

•And, of course, smashing organized labor. “Though unions have lost considerable influence, they remain a major obstacle to achieving the right’s vision,” Greider explains.

For those who think this is a futuristic nightmare, look at what the Bush administration has already done. The legislature passed massive tax cuts for the wealthy, the administration wants to allow faith-based organizations to use government funds, enforcement of environmental laws is being cut back, and the Federal Communication Commission’s restriction on media ownership has been relaxed. The administration has used the Patriot Act to strip many federal employees of the right to unionize.