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The Poor Rich and the Scrooginess of Congress

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It's at this time of the year that generous, big-hearted Americans reach out to aid the less fortunate among us -- like those who've recently been knocked down by the recession and seen their incomes plummet. I speak, of course, about our nation's severely squeezed millionaires.

Yes, many in the infamous 1 percent class are no longer feeling like a million bucks. According to a new federal report, the income of these high-living swells averaged a robust $1.4 million in 2007, but after Wall Street crashed in a heap of greed late that year, their average income took a tumble. In 2009, it fell below the millionaire threshold, leaving these poor rich folks struggling to make it on an average income of only $957,000.

Also, talk about getting a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking, the share of our nation's total income taken by the 1-percenters fell from a whopping 23 percent in 2007 (the highest since the Roaring Twenties) to a mere 17 percent in 2009. How sad for them, huh?

The only balm for their little financial ouchie is they are using the slight setback to rebuke the 99-percenters of the Occupy Wall Street protests. See, say the rich, waving the federal report, our slice of the pie in 2009 was the smallest it's been in a decade, so your protest about inequality is out of date. "Get a time machine," one front man for the Koch brothers barked at the Occupy movement.

OK, but let's travel back only a few short years in time to 1980, when the top 1 percent was very happy to pocket a meager 10 percent of all of America's income. And, by the way, today's 1-percenters have had big income gains since 2009, while the 99 percent have lost income. So the Occupiers are right -- the inequality is increasing -- yet, shamefully, those who're back making a killing want America's hard-hit majority to feel sorry for them!

The 1-percenters and the politicos who serve them are modern-day scrooges, oblivious to the hardships of others. "Humbug," they mutter, expecting downsized workers to be like Bob Cratchit -- grateful to be given an extra piece of coal for the fire in Ebenezer's cold workspace. As you recall, Scrooge was a nasty old miser, but even he came to see the soul-destroying evil of his ways and found redemption in the end. One wonders, though -- is there any hope for the Scrooges of Washington?

Congressional Republicans continue to protect nonsensical tax breaks for Wall Street billionaires and Big Oil, while demanding that programs to aid America's growing number of poor people either be slashed or eliminated. The Obama White House is fighting most of this absurdity, but it keeps trying to appease the GOP by offering to sacrifice programs that ordinary people really need. For example, LIHEAP.

Much of the country doesn't know what that is, but people who go through the long, bitterly cold winters in the Northeast know that LIHEAP literally is a lifeline for the thousands of poor families there. It's the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps the poor afford the steadily rising price being charged for the heating oil that Northeastern states rely on. Home heating oil in Maine is presently running $3.66 a gallon, up from $2.87 a year ago.

Yet, in a concession to GOP leaders, Obama has proposed whacking LIHEAP's funding so severely that average benefits this winter would fall from about $800 per home to just over $300. That's not just throwing a program's budget into the Republican shredder, it's throwing people into it! In Bangor, Maine, where the average January low is only 7 degrees above zero, the slashed benefits will buy only about 100 gallons of fuel for the typical low-income home. It takes 850 gallons for those homes to stay heated through the winter season.

Rather than literally tossing the poor into the cold, how about cutting off all heat to the White House and Capitol? Let those Scrooges feel the sting of their budgetary miserliness, and maybe they'd seek a bit of redemption from those they're hurting.


Jim Hightower is an American populist, spreading his message of democratic hope via national radio commentaries, columns, books, his award-winning monthly newsletter (The Hightower Lowdown) and barnstorming tours all across America.
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