Shutdown of U.S. government averted, for now

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Correspondent- | Last updated: Apr 13, 2011 - 11:54:51 AM

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President Obama and Vice President Biden meet with Offi ce of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew and Rob Nabors, Director of Legislative Affairs, in the Oval Offi ce, April 5. Photo: Pete Souza, Credit: The White House
WASHINGTON ( - With less than 60 minutes before the automatic sequence would have shuttered the U.S. federal government, furloughing 800,000 workers, Republican and Democratic legislators shook hands and informed President Barack Obama that they had reached another temporary budget agreement April 8, slashing $38 billion in discretionary spending and averting a government shutdown.

The deal approves the funding levels for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 which ends September 30, at more than $78 billion below what the president proposed last year, but less than the $100 billion conservative, Tea Party Republicans had promised.

The agreement amounts to the largest annual spending cuts in U.S. history, the president seemed to boast when he announced the agreement.

Nancy Davis, left, participates in a union rally April 4, in Cleveland. Photo: AP Wide World Photos/Tony Dejak)
“In the final hours before our government would have been forced to shut down, leaders in both parties reached an agreement that will allow our small businesses to get the loans they need, our families to get the mortgages they applied for, and hundreds of thousands of Americans to show up at work and take home their paychecks on time, including our brave men and women in uniform,” Mr. Obama said in the White House Blue Room, the Washington Monument visible outside the window behind him, even as the House and the Senate were voting on a stop-gap measure, good until April 15.

Student Minister Robert Muhammad, the Nation of Islam's Southwestern Regional representative based in Houston, holds a master's degree and is currently pursuing his PhD in the field of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy at the Texas Southern University School of Public Affairs. He said despite these temporary measures, America is destined to fall, as prophesied by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and his student, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.

Had America's governmental officials taken Min. Farrakhan's advice contained in his book “A Torchlight for America” perhaps, some of this could have been averted, he said.

“The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan told them that the American people would sacrifice and even pay more taxes if it would help to balance the budget, but the people would have to know the truth,” said Robert Muhammad.

Mr. Muhammad characterized the recent agreement staving off a governmental shutdown as “putting a band aid on cancer,” adding that the only reason America has not gone the way of Greece and some of the other European nations financially is that the U.S. dollar is the reserve currency of the world. The inordinate control of both political parties by special interest groups means conflict, political brinksmanship and stalemates will continue, he said.


There are four big items in the federal budget: Defense, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. “Thus far we haven't seen major proposals to shift those, from a budgetary perspective.
“There is really no substantive difference between those who control the political parties,” said Robert Muhammad. “The U.S. Congress and the presidency really represent the best government that money can buy.”

In “A Torchlight for America” in a section titled “America on the Brink of Anarchy” Minister Farrakhan offered divine guidance.

“If we don't make earnest moves toward real solutions, then each day we move one day closer to revolution and anarchy in this country,” Min. Farrakhan wrote. “It all depends on who is going to guide the country and what kind of guidance he or she will give. The time does not demand a hypocritical approach to solving the problems.”

Symbolically, Mr. Obama visited the Lincoln Memorial, which would have been shuttered April 9, where he was greeted like a rock star by enthusiastic tourists.

While the impasse that had threatened to disrupt federal operations across the country and around the globe, it would have disproportionately affected Blacks who are 70 percent more likely to work for the federal government than the general workforce, according to the “State of the Dream” report by United for a Fair Economy. But the deal that was approved included two controversial provisions aimed at the District of Columbia which has a slight Black population majority, and is subject to congressional oversight of its local government operations.

One of the controversial policy “riders” included in the budget deal would prevent the city from using any local or federal money to pay for abortions for low-income residents. The other restarts the “D.C. Opportunity Scholarship” program. It's a favorite initiative of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), and the only program in the entire nation (including Mr. Boehner's own home district) that uses federal tax dollars to subsidize private-school tuition for low income students.

“This is ludicrous. While one rider purports to provide educational aid to children in need, the other takes away desperately needed aid from poor women. Hypocrisy is alive and well in the United States Congress,” D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray complained in a statement April 9.

On the last day before the shutdown was averted the principal disagreements between the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democratic-controlled Senate and White House were apparently not about the amounts of money to be cut, but about so-called social “policy” provisions in the form of “riders” which were attached to the agreement. The riders would have eliminated several of the enforcement powers of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and eliminated funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and for Planned Parenthood.

Democrats drew the line on the elimination of funding for Planned Parenthood.

“It is also extremely disappointing that Republicans took our government to the brink of a costly shutdown all for the sake of preventing women from accessing critical health services like breast exams, prenatal care and birth control,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

But even as negotiators breathed a sigh of relief that the shutdown and devastating furlough of employees was averted, the political reality is that the real budget fight was merely postponed, and not resolved. Within weeks both sides will clash again over the nation's debt ceiling and the 2012 budget. The annual federal deficit is $1.6 trillion, adding to a debt of $14 trillion that is expected to grow for years to come.

Congress must approve legislation this spring, that will raise the nation's debt ceiling, and permit the government to continue borrowing money to finance two wars in Muslim countries, and hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent of the population, along with all the other government programs.

Conservatives, emboldened that they were able to get more than 78 percent of their stated spending cut goals in this 2011 budget cycle, after already managing to win tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, are now promising an even tougher fight over that legislation. The debt-ceiling vote is critical to keeping the U.S. from defaulting on the debt it has already incurred.

Despite the tension and threat of a government shutdown, the 11th-hour budget deal for $38.5 billion in cuts April 8, addressed just a sliver (1 percent) of the $3.8 trillion annual budget for just half of the year. That amounts to about one week's worth of federal spending.

The discretionary budget portion of the budget amounts to only a tiny fraction of the entire budget, because it does not consider military spending, or popular federal programs such as Medicare and Social Security that consume the major portion of government spending.

There is little hope for a satisfactory outcome to the budget crisis, according to the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad. “It is useless for you to try to prevent the fall of the White man's world,” Mr. Muhammad warned in The Fall of America, published in 1973. “The White race has not tried to do the right thing … justice.

“The doing of justice would have checked her fall (Bible, Jeremiah). But America was never willing to do justice by those whom she has mistreated. She has dealt injustice to her Black once-slave for the nearly five hundred years that she has been in the Western Hemisphere,” Mr. Muhammad wrote.

Many economists and scholars are concerned that the reduction in government spending being insisted on by the Republicans and their Tea Party constituents will only worsen the recession—the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Princeton University professor Paul Krugman said the GOP predictions that their plan will spur an economic recovery: “depends an awful lot on unicorn sightings.”

“When you get a guy grand-standing about ‘I know how to save a billion dollars,' this is a little bit like if you had a family meeting with your whole family, and somebody in the household said ‘I know a way we can save 12 cents a week,' ” Max Wolff, an instructor at the New School University in New York, and a financial adviser to the Rev. Jesse Jackson told The Final Call.

“Alright, on some level, every penny counts, but on another level, a family budget that is moving around by 12 cents a week is not probably going to radically alter the balance of the household, so these numbers are pretty small,” said Mr. Wolff.

There are four big items in the federal budget: Defense, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. “Thus far we haven't seen major proposals to shift those, from a budgetary perspective.

“The Ryan Report coming out of the House Republicans has some major proposals on slashing social spending, and then it has what I think might fairly be described as Sham-a-lamma-ding-dong about ways to save money on Medicare,” he said.

The economy is not strong enough to adjust to the drastic cuts, Prof. Krugman argued. “It's worth noting that this follows just a few months after another big concession (by President Obama), in which he gave in to Republican demands for tax cuts,” Dr. Krugman said in his New York Times column. “The net effect of these two sets of concessions is, of course, a substantial increase in the deficit,” not the desired decrease.

What the Republican proposals will amount to, according to an analysis by Kristie Greco in the office of House Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) are: an end to Medicare guarantee for seniors; tens of billions of dollars in tax subsidies to Big Oil; slashing support for seniors in nursing homes; tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas; cuts in education for children and a raise in college costs for nearly 10 million students; and making tax cuts permanent for the wealthiest Americans, adding $1 trillion to the deficit.

NNPA columnist Harry Alford, who is also president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, was highly critical of the political posturing of America's governmental leaders. He delivered a sober assessment of where America is headed.

“Our treasury is in a major deficit and our so called leaders act as if they have money to burn. The only ones who are going to get burned are us,” Mr. Alford wrote. “China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia hold our financial paper; the price of oil is going through the ‘roof,' grocery prices are skyrocketing and we are now into three wars with no end apparent. Whatever happened to good fiscal management like they teach us at business schools? We are drunk with malfeasance and our leadership is stuck in the ‘toilet.' ”

(Ashahed M. Muhammad contributed to this report.)

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