The New York Times reported on August 4 that “even with the economy in a funk and many Americans pulling back on spending, the rich are again buying designer clothing, luxury cars and about anything that catches their fancy.” And luxury goods stores, “are more than recovering — they are zooming.” Meanwhile, the U.S. Agriculture Department reported that a record 41.8 million Americans now receive food stamps, and the numbers getting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program subsidies increased by 18% in the past year. If you want to understand what “bipartisanship” means in the third year of the Obama Administration, these contrasting stories say it all.
While President Obama bemoans the lack of “bipartisanship,” Democrats have found common ground with Republicans in prioritizing the desires of the wealthy over the needs of poor and working-class Americans. While Democrats are not nearly as zealous or extreme in their policy proposals, there is now a bipartisan consensus that budget deficits – not unemployment or poverty – are the nation’s top problem.
Yet almost entirely absent from the past month’s debt-ceiling discussion was the record number of families depending on government assistance to keep themselves fed. Congress is responding to this worsening crisis by attempting to cut food stamps in order to save money, a result that may be inevitable after the debt-ceiling deal enacted this week.
While Republicans have led this war on working and unemployed people in need, top Democrats from Obama to New York Senator Chuck Schumer have either extended or fought to preserve tax breaks for the rich. Schumer has battled to ensure that those making millions form hedge funds continue to pay taxes at an artificially low rate, which has helped sharply boost BMW, Porsche and Mercedes sales and such items noted in the Times story as $250 Ermenegildo Zegna ties and $2,800 David Yurman pavé rings.
Tiffany’s sales are up 20% in the first quarter, while Wal-Mart has had to reduce the size of its toilet paper packaging because many of its working-class customers cannot afford multi-pack purchases.
The gap between the rich and everyone else increased during the 1990’s, but the Clinton era also saw gains for the middle and working class and extremely low unemployment. Today, unemployment is 9.8%, the highest since 1983.
We didn’t hear much about unemployment during the debt-ceiling debate, which explains why the bipartisan deal required the rich to pay nothing more – but did not extend unemployment benefits.
Randy Shaw is the author of Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the
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