Thursday, November 8, 2012

Who Will Be "Grand Bargaining" for Them?

As Washington re-focuses on issues of taxes, spending and debt, I can't shake the images I saw while helping to get out the vote in some poor, mostly African-American neighborhoods in Durham these past couple of weeks.

I'm ashamed to say that I visit these communities far less than I should, and I am mostly inspired to do so every four years when I am encouraging their residents to cast a ballot in the presidential race.   Even so, it is a humbling experience.  Too many ramshackle homes, too many kids with nowhere to play, too much poverty.  I asked a friend one day how his canvassing was going and whether people were home during the middle of the day.  "Yeah," he said, "people are home because they don't have jobs."

Over the next weeks and perhaps months, Washington will be filled with talk of trillions in tax cuts or increases here and there.  Slimming deductions.  Broadening the base.  Trimming "domestic discretionary spending."  Saving the Pentagon from the dreaded "sequester."  There will be the illusive chase for the grand bargain affecting virtually every government program on the books.  Representatives of every group, organization, trade association, union, contractor, and business will be scrambling around the city trying to make sure their voices are heard and their interests are protected.  My question is -- who will be "grand bargaining" for the people whose doors I was knocking on the past few weeks.

I'm all in favor of tackling our long term debt.  I agree that we need a better tax code.  We can't afford to keep spending so much money on health care.  But I do think that when all is said and done, there has to be something in this bargain for our least represented, our most needy, and our oft forgotten communities. People from these neighborhoods came out to vote in droves -- they were a key part of the coalition that got the president reelected.  There ought to be something in the "grand bargain" for them.  There has to be something in the grand bargain for them.

Most of the discussion is going to be about cuts to government spending.  But in the process, we ought to be adding something as well.  I'm not an expert, but I'd say there has to be some type of jobs program for low income, semi-skilled workers, perhaps building infrastructure, perhaps renovating schools, I don't know.  But we need something to pump money into these communities and help those who the great recession has pushed close to, or even into poverty.  

The people who trudged out to vote, who stood on lines for hours, did so because they have faith in this president.  He cannot move mountains.  But he owes it to them to be their voice, to be their representative at the table as the deals that frame our future for the next decade and beyond are being cut.  

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