Call it a "general strike" ... from above. Republicans in Congress are trying to paralyze the government with their new budget bill, using a "disrupt and defeat" strategy to prevent it from delivering services promised to the the nation's citizens and required under current law. It's fiscal sabotage, plain and simple. Will people fight back?
The GOP'S first attack is on Social Security, slashing its budget in order to deprive people of vitally needed services. While the "austerity economics" crowd talks disingenuously about future Social Security cuts in the coming decades, they're actually trying to cripple its activities starting right now.
House Republicans passed a budget which cuts $1.7 billion from the operating budget for the Social Security Administration (SSA) for the rest of 2011. That would damage its ability to deliver the benefits that were paid for by the working men and women of America. And remember: These same Republicans just held the government hostage in order to win a tax break for the wealthiest of Americans -- a deal that will cost the public treasury hundreds of billions of dollars. Now they're turning on the elderly, the disabled, and people who have lost a loved one.
If this strategy succeeds, they won't stop there. Their goal is the radical downsizing of government, and their next target could be anywhere that government provides needed services. They've already made it clear that they're willing to gut the FBI, disaster relief for future Katrinas, and even food safety and inspection services.
The one-time "law and order" party is even going after after police officers on the beat, with cuts that include programs like "COPS" that support state and local law enforcement. (Remember the theme song from the TV show COPS - "Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?" If the GOP has its way, they may not be coming at all.)
Here's what would happen this year if this budget stands: According to an analysis prepared for Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee, the proposed $1.7 billion cut would have the following impact in the next seven months:
- The Social Security Administration will have to furlough its employees for up to one month between now and the end of the year (according to its administrators).
- 400,000 people won't be able to get their applications processed in a timely manner for retirement benefits, Medicare, and survivor benefits, creating an ever-increasing backlog. Nearly 300,000 more will face additional delays in having their disability benefits processed, which would add an estimated 30 days to an already unacceptable 514-day backlog.
- Tens of thousands of internal reviews, which could prevent millions of dollars in inappropriate payments, will be delayed.
Somebody who becomes disabled is already forced to wait nearly a year and a half to receive a disability payment. This inhumane situation will become even worse under this budget, even though they paid for that coverage with their FICA tax from every paycheck. Retiring people, those reaching 65, and the newly bereaved will also be forced into an intolerable waiting period -- often with no income and no means of support.
Think about it: The country's just been through a devastating financial crisis caused by Wall Street greed. Yet even as the Republicans work to protect bankers from regulation, they're imposing financial hardship onto people whose savings have in many cases been wiped out by the same bankers.
And for what, exactly? The estate-tax deal the Republicans just jammed into this year's budget will cost the government $68 billion over two years. That figure doesn't come from some fringe-lefty-blogger outfit, either, unless that's how you think about those hippies over at Accounting Today magazine. This break that will only benefit people inheriting millions of dollars. Yet these deficit spendthrifts suddenly become misers when it comes to Social Security, where they're only saving $1.7 billion by slashing its administrative budget. It's worth asking why they're cutting an item that's such small potatoes compared to what they give away so freely.
The best answer seems to be: That's the plan. They want to dismantle government, to render it incapable of doing anything but serve the needs of the wealthy. Remember all that right-wing talk about "starving the beast"? This is it. The beast is you -- and your grandparents, and the widow or widower, and the person who's too sick or too badly injured to work. We're all expendable, and the strategy seems to be designed to break your will by discouraging you from thinking you'll ever receive the benefits you've earned.
Ironically, Republicans in Wisconsin and elsewhere are trying to destroy government employees' rights to bargain, even though these employees are already forbidden to strike or do anything else that would interfere with essential government services -- services such as, for example, processing Social Security enrollments. But while the rest of us can't interfere with the workings of government, even to assert our rights, apparently Republicans in Congress can -- even when the law of the land says the public is entitled to them.
Not that it's all bad news: Billionaire hedge fund managers still only pay 15% of their income in taxes, thanks to the GOP. And there's that $68 billion giveaway to the Paris Hilton/Nicole Ritchie set, too. Paris? Nicole? Sounds like it's time for a new reality show.
How about this reality? A coalition to defend Social Security  is organizing a one-day set of demonstrations across the country at local SSA offices, this Wednesday (March 2) at noon. Since these offices deliver local services, there's probably one near you. (You can find out here.)
The Republicans are determined to paralyze the workings of government. Will people gather in the streets to resist this move, or sit on the sidelines as services they've paid for are shut down by an increasingly radical Congress and its wealthy patrons? The Egyptian uprising was triggered by cuts to social services, after all.
It remains to be seen what will happen on Wednesday, but events in Madison have shown us that the American people have their limits too. Conflict statement: I am affiliated with that group, "Strengthen Social Security," through my relationship with the Campaign for America's Future.