The Fiscal Cliff Looms

Barrington M. Salmon | 12/12/2012, 9:15 a.m.

Congressional Republicans forced Obama to accept their proposal to cut the $1.2 trillion from social programs in exchange for raising the country's debt limit last year. The GOP has used the debt ceiling as a cudgel seeking concessions for approval to raise the debt limits. Concerns about the deficit led to both sides agreeing to create a congressional super-committee to develop a deficit reduction plan. But the super-committee failed to forge an agreement, leading to the prospect of automatic spending cuts or sequestration. The $1.2 trillion in cuts begin in 2013 and ends in 2021.

Mitchell said Bread for the World's greatest concern is the effect the cuts will have on the poor. He said about 8.2 percent in cuts is expected deepening the woes of the poor and near-poor, describing the current scenario as more of a fiscal slope than a fiscal cliff.

"It will take time for these particular cuts to take hold but we will see a gradual decline over time. These threats are very serious not propaganda," Mitchell said. "Our position is that there would be significant cuts in federal programs affecting low-income residents. This is on top of the over $1 trillion in cuts already made. Our community will be disproportionately affected."

Officials from Bread for the World said last week that they have grave concern for the effects any budget plan would have on poor people. They called for more to be done to protect poor people and shared data comparing Obama's proposal with Boehner's.

"President Obama's proposal appears to protect poor people, while Speaker Boehner's would cause a lot of hurt," said the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. "But neither proposal explicitly commits to a circle of protection around programs focused on poor and hungry people."

Leigh said the fiscal cliff will tear the safety net and contribute to people's suffering on a whole. She cited examples of local hospitals being closed if they don't receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements; layoffs; contractors in the city not hiring; people without disposable income which keeps businesses viable; "and everyone waiting for the other shoe to drop."

In addition, she said housing assistance grants will likely be cut and students will be denied access to college.

"We're cutting into things that are critical to the well-being of the country," Leigh said.

While the situation merits concern, Political Scientist and Analyst Avis Jones-DeWeever said leaders of both parties have some wiggle room if they need it.

"It's not a hard and fast and the world will not end if the deadline passes. If the only option is to go past the deadline to get a better deal for working families, we should wait," she said. "This was part of a bad deal that grew out of the debt-ceiling shenanigans last year. This was created so that people would come to the table and be reasonable. That requires good faith on both sides. But we don't have that on the Right."

Jones-DeWeever, executive director of the National Council of Negro Women, said Republicans are posturing that they don't want to raise revenue even though they got shellacked on Nov. 6.

"Boehner has to be the adult in the room and has to balance both constituencies," she said of the factions in the House GOP. "There is a constituency that doesn't care about a certain part of the population - those living on the edge and who need those social programs to survive. They consider struggling Americans to be almost sub-human."

Leigh took a different tack.

"People voted into office seem to be unwilling to take difficult positions that could cause them difficulties in elections," she said. "We've gotten into this pattern of pushing things off. We have an ideological stalemate. This business of not raising taxes is absurd. You're taking away a large chunk of the revenue you need for the government to operate. Tax policy and monetary policies are what keep the government afloat."

"I don't think the ideological stalemate will go away but if someone is cast as being the reason for us going over the fiscal cliff, they will suffer for the next 15-plus years."