The Illogic of GOP Wartime Budget Logic
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|Mon, 04-07-2003 - 3:20pm|
By Matt Bivens
WASHINGTON -- Ted Stevens, the senator the Republicans have put in charge of the money, says America's police officers and firefighters should work overtime without pay -- as a wartime sacrifice.
"I really feel strongly that we ought to find some way to convince the people that there ought to be some volunteerism at home," the Appropriations Committee chair said last week, according to the New York Post. "Those people overseas in the desert -- they're not getting paid overtime ... I don't know why the people working for the cities and counties ought to be paid overtime when they're responding to matters of national security."
No word on whether Stevens is wartime-sacrificing-back any of his salary -- congressional pay for 2003 begins at $154,700 (up by $13,400 since 2000). Then, a day after suggesting cops and firefighters be patriotic enough to work for free, Stevens pushed an amendment through the Senate to increase the military's danger pay (to $225 a month from $150) and the family separation allowance (to $250 a month from $100).
What are the Republicans up to? Three weeks ago, they cast an astonishing wartime vote to cut hundreds of millions in spending on health care for veterans. Just when people began to notice, the Republicans reversed themselves and put the money back. Then, a key Republican takes a slap at police and firefighters -- the heroes of Sept. 11 -- as being greedy for overtime. And then, the Republicans vote to give the heroes of Iraq ... some overtime.
Whatever else it is, the GOP is a politically savvy outfit. My guess: They're setting up a false controversy -- one that pits cops and firefighters against returning soldiers over relatively small sums of cash, while the Republicans quietly hand away far, far larger sums to the wealthy.
So, some perspective:
1. There's a vicious, many-sided fight on now over extra money as Congress is about to allocate $1 billion for homeland security. Police and firefighter overtime pay would be some fraction of that.
2. There are more than 300,000 coalition troops deployed, of which 100,000 are in Iraq. Assume all 300,000 draw an entire year of danger and family separation pay. Back-of-the-envelope math suggests that would come to $900 million -- with an "m"; Stevens' amendment, if signed into law, would add another $800 million -- again, million with an "m."
3. The tax cuts the Republicans have been pushing would favor the richest 1 percent of Americans with $500 billion over 10 years, or on average, $50 billion a year. Billion with a "b."
Welcome to the Republican agenda: They lead you in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and when you put your hand over your heart, they reach into your pocket.
Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, is a fellow of The Nation Institute .