Makers, Takers and Gifts
When the seemingly endless election season finally ended, winners and losers had little time to celebrate their victories or lick their wounds before the campaigns morphed into contests to beat the self-imposed, fast-approaching budgetary deadlines to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years without destabilizing the recovering economy.
The White House and lame-duck Congress must decide who pays down the debt by December 31, when tax breaks for the middle class and the mega-rich expire, and by the January 2 sequester deadline, when spending cuts kick in, a half-billion each from defense and domestic funds. Adding to pressure to strike deals or let taxes go up and spending go down automatically are the debt ceiling, which needs to be raised sometime in February, and the continuing budget resolution, which expires March 27, forcing a government shutdown.
This, in large part, is what the 2012 election was about: whether or not to return to the tax cuts for the rich and deregulation that brought the country to the brink of financial disaster, as well as who gets tossed over the fiscal cliff and who hangs on by their fingernails.
Prominent Republicans denigrated the have-nots and stereotyped half of the U.S. population both in their campaign against a second term for President Barack Obama and in their explanation of why they lost to him. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney garnered unwanted publicity for his remarks about the freeloading “47 percent” who would never vote for him and about those who voted for Obama because he gave them “gifts.”
Romney’s pre- and post-election remarks were surreptitiously recorded when he thought he was confiding solely to other party fat cats. His statements in May, which Mother Jones published in September, included this: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what…who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.…These are people who pay no income tax.…(M)y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
In mid-November, Romney told donors on a conference call that Obama won reelection by giving “gifts” to African American, Hispanic and young voters: “In each case, they were very generous in what they gave to those groups.… With regards to the young people…a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift.… Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women.… Obamacare also made a difference for them…anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people.… With regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.”
It was Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-WI), who developed the construct in public statements since 2010, dividing Americans into two groups: makers and takers: “Right now about 60 percent of the American people get more benefits in dollar value from the federal government than they pay back in taxes. So we’re going to a majority of takers versus makers.” Within a year, he had revised the takers figure upward to 70 percent.
Fresh from his failed bid for vice president, Ryan was rewarded with a continuing chairmanship of the House Budget Committee, making him the only chair who received a waiver from the strict Republican rule that all chairs are term-limited after six years, which he has served. This makes Ryan an ongoing central figure in fiscal cliff negotiations with the Senate and White House.
Dispelling any notion that Native Peoples are takers, the National Congress of American Indians and an impressive list of Native organizations and nations wrote to members of Congress on November 20: “The federal trust obligation to Indian tribes must be honored and vital tribal programs must be sustained in any deal to reduce the national debt. The obligations to tribal citizens funded in the federal budget are the result of treaties negotiated and agreements made between Indian tribes and the U.S. in exchange for land and resources, known as the trust responsibility.… [T]he authority to fund programs that fulfill the trust responsibility is founded in the Constitution, specifically the Indian Commerce Clause, the Treaty Clause and the Property Clause.”
NCAI estimates that if sequestration were implemented, the percentage cuts from fiscal-year 2010 Native programs (when adjusted for inflation) would be: job training, 23 percent; low income home energy assistance, 35 percent; vocational rehabilitation tribal grants, 25 percent; housing block grant, 21 percent; student education, 13 percent; tribal community oriented policing grants, 25 percent; and total Bureau of Indian Affairs Operation of Indian Programs,14 percent. “Cuts at the sequester level of 8.2 percent, or deeper, to investments in education, housing, roads, law enforcement, tribal courts, natural resources, energy development, job training, and health care would deal a devastating blow to the economic conditions in Indian Country.”
Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee, is an award-winning columnist and a poet, writer, curator and policy advocate, who has helped Native Peoples to protect sacred places and recover more than 1 million acres of land.