Super Committee “Failure”? No, a Big Sigh of Relief! Now Let’s Get to Work on Wealth Gap

Meredith Dodson, Director of U.S. Poverty Campaigns
November 22, 2011

Yesterday at 4:45 pm ET, the chairs of the “Super Committee” charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit savings announced that they were unable to make an agreement. Instead, a series of automatic cuts, called “sequestration”, will begin in January 2013 assuming Congress doesn’t find the savings on its own. According to the Congressional Budget Office, non-defense could be reduced by 7.8 percent below current levels in 2013. The programs that could face cuts under sequestration beginning in 2013 include:

These programs will face tremendous pressure starting in 2013. For example, the New America Foundation reminds us that a 7.8 percent reduction in Head Start funding would mean a cut of $585 million from current levels

So, many are calling this a failure – but we at RESULTS are relieved at this outcome given the possibility we could have seen draconian cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) in an unbalanced and unfair deal that locked in tax breaks for millionaires and corporations that would widen the wealth gap further. Many key programs, including Medicaid and SNAP, are protected from cuts under sequestration. We will continue to push for smart investments in programs that make a difference in the lives of millions who live in poverty here and around the world to minimize the impact of the automatic cuts, grateful that Congress did not decimate safety net programs for tax giveaways for the “haves” this holiday season. For more, see the Coalition on Human Needs' press statement.

I believe our work to address the wealth gap continues to be critical and am glad this is the focus of our U.S. poverty groups this month. This is a ripe time to focus on these issues; during the “Great Recession”, millions of Americans are unemployed or underemployed, and most in this country feel scared or nervous about their situation or that of their friends or family. This highlights the importance of having savings that can help us weather through an emergency like a sudden illness, a car breakdown, or someone losing their job or cutting back on hours. And, there is a populist movement building in the form of the Occupy Wall Street movement, with a focus on inequality. To help us understand the wealth gap better, Marge Clark from NETWORK shared some great information with us from NETWORK’s Mind the Gap campaign, which is designed to raise awareness of the enormous wealth gap in the U.S., on our RESULTS November Domestic national conference call.  Marge reminded us that right now, the top 10 percent wealthiest households own 75 percent of all wealth (2009 numbers) with the top 1 percent owning nearly half of that (35% of all U.S. wealth). She pointed out that in the 2009 book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, researchers found that nations with a large income inequality (like the U.S.) experienced a lower quality of life compared to countries with less inequality. Problems like violent crime, mental health issues, drug addiction, poor social mobility, obesity, poor educational performance were worse in less equal countries.

Luckily, my colleague Jos Linn created a Wealth Gap page on the RESULTS website. This page provides a brief overview of the U.S. wealth gap, including an analysis of how we got where we are. We also have resources and links to data on the impact of inequality on families, racial groups, the economy, and society as a whole. Be sure to use pertinent facts from this page when contacting congressional offices to urge them to begin narrowing the wealth gap. And today, our friends at the National Priorities Project (NPP) re-launched CostofTaxCuts.com with some additional analysis. As NPP explains, “The site features real-time counters tracking the cost to the U.S. Treasury of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest one and five percent of Americans. According to the new site, should the super committee have recommended the sunset of the Bush tax cuts for the richest one percent, the U.S. Treasury would realize $1.4 trillion in additional revenue over the next decade, more than accomplishing the super committee’s deficit reduction task of $1.2 trillion over ten years.”

As the mother of a preschooler, I am frightened about what increasing the wealth gap will mean for our future society. What gives me solace is knowing that people like the hundreds of RESULTS volunteers across the U.S. are out there, following what is happening and taking actions that do make a difference. Remember, the American people want Congress to act on this issue. 60 percent of Americans polled in a new Washington Post/ABC News poll are concerned about the growing wealth gap and want elected officials to take action to narrow it. Let’s take this message to Congress.

While we gather with family and family over this holiday season, I hope we will remember how many of our fellow Americans are struggling. If you have a moment, I urge you to find time to take the November Action. Contact members of Congress, urging them to enact policies designed to close the rising wealth gap.  In addition, you can use the widespread media coverage to amplify your message by sending a letter to the editor using our updated online tool, telling Congress to protects services for low-income families and address the wealth gap.