Today’s National Day of Action, called by Rebuild the Dream, the Alliance for Retired Americans and embraced by members of the Occupy movement, took an unlikely turn on Capitol Hill, as working and retired Americans joined together to tell lawmakers not to balance the budget on the backs of the 99 percent, as a joint congressional committee has threatened to do through proposed cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
In a packed hearing room at the U.S. Senate, participants in a “Jobs, Not Cuts!” rally, keynoted by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), erupted into the chant that has come to identify the Occupy movement: “We are the 99 percent!” Most of the chanters bore little resemblance to the stereotyped image of an Occupy protester—many were senior citizens, and the young people in the audience bore a distinctly clean-cut look.
It all served to prove Sanders’ point that mainsteram American wants the wealthiest Americans to pay more taxes, and they want Congress not to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Sanders said:
Poll after poll, that is what the vast majority of the American people want.
Rally participants also heard from several people who told how Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security had saved them from abject poverty or enabled them to maintain their independence. Among them, Marilyn Dixon Hills of Camden, N.J., a 58-year-old widow,worked as nurse for 30 years before being suddenly struck with a paralyzing illness. She’s currently without health-care coverage because she can’t afford her COBRA payments, which extend health care coverage after someone leaves a job. Her Social Security disability benefits make her ineligible for Medicaid. But without those Social Security benefits—benefits the Super Committee might cut—she would have no income.
Rally participants aimed their message squarely at the so-called Super Committee, a joint committee of both the House and Senate, which is scheduled to deliver a plan on Nov. 23 to trim the U.S. budget deficit by $1.2 trillion over the course of the next decade. Republicans on the committee have rejected Democratic plans that would allow the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens to expire and, as we reported, some Democrats have expressed a willingness to accept cuts in the social safety net programs on which the nation’s elderly and less affluent citizens rely—a position AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has deemed “unacceptable.” If the committee fails to reach a deal, a raft of cuts to programs across the board is scheduled to go into effect.
In his opening remarks, Sanders said the United States does have a serious deficit problem—but one, he said, that was caused by tax cuts, two unpaid-for wars, and:
…it was caused by a recession that was the result of the greed and recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street.
“That’s right!” shouted some members of the audience, while others held up their hands, wiggling their fingers, echoing the hand signals used in the consensus-driven general assemblies of the Occupy encampments.
The language of the movement permeated the speeches delivered in the hearing room. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), opened her remarks this way, referring to plans by rally-goers to visit the offices of Super Committee members:
We want to invite you to the first meeting of Occupy the Joint Committee.
Mikulski’s Maryland colleague, Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, also addressed the rally.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) announced that 80 House Democrats have signed onto a resolution that “clearly states” that the Super Committee’s deficit reduction plan should not target Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. DeLauro continued:
I have a 98-year-old mother, so this cuts very close to home. What we are doing is extending people’s lives on the one hand, and we’re taking away their quality of life on the other.
The AFL-CIO launched a campaign last month, urging online activists to tell Congress “No!” on proposed cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. As we reported:
You can join the action to fight the proposed cuts to these essential middle-class provisions by texting DEBT to 235246 to send a message to your lawmakers.