Dean Baker is a doctoral candidate in economics at U-M and has been actively involved in opposing U.S. policy in Latin American over the past several years.
Over the last few years those of us working against U.S. intervention in Central America have tried in every way imaginable to make our views known to our representative in Congress, Carl Pursell. We have called, written, sent telegrams, visited his offices, both in the district and in Washington, and even sat-in at his Ann Arbor office. We have cited mountains of evidence from universally respected sources showing that the administration's policies stand in direct opposition to the struggles of the people of Central America for self-determination, democracy and basic human rights.
Pursell's response has been to ignore our arguments and to hide from his constituents as he ever more firmly embraces Reagan's policies. Still we are determined to press our case against U.S. intervention in Central America and to continue to make Pursell a target of this pressure. As part of this effort I intend to challenge Pursell in the November election.
Pursell must be made to understand that we will force him to account for his votes in every way that we can. We will not simply let him take our tax dollars and give them to the Contra terrorists who prey on the Nicaraguan population. Nor will we ignore his votes to send the Salvadoran military money for the bombing campaign it is waging against its civilian population.
We cannot let our representative join Reagan in his crazed drive to get U.S. troops directly involved in the repression of the population of Central America. We have demanded and continue to demand that Carl Pursell publicly defend his votes on these issues. As a candidate I will continue to press this demand and force him to respect the views of his constituents.
Pursell's voting record on Central America is the main reason, but certainly not the only reason why it is necessary that he be challenged this fall. There are a number of other issues that I hope to be able to raise in a campaign against Pursell. I will briefly touch on a few of them here.
Arms Control and Military Spending
It's clear that the Reagan administration has no intention of reaching any sort of arms control agreement with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union has repeatedly made concessions in order to remove obstacles to a treaty, such as allowing on-site inspections to meet Reagan's concerns about verification. It has gotten to the point where the Soviet Union is making proposals virtually identical to ones made earlier by Reagan but which he now seems to have retracted. While the Soviet Union seems to have recognized that an escalating arms race can only lead to economic ruin and increasing danger of war, Reagan seems determined to pursue his arms build up regardless of the risk or the cost. As long as representatives like Pursell are prepared to write blank checks for the Pentagon, Reagan will be able to continue to buy up every weapons system that comes along, no matter how dangerous or how costly it might be.
Under Reagan, the tax system has been significantly altered so as to drastically reduce the proportion of taxes paid by the wealthy. For example, under the current system, wealthy individuals who make their money from buying and selling stock only have to pay taxes on 40c of every dollar they make, as compared to the rest of us who have to pay taxes on every dollar we earn.
The enormous deficits the government is currently running stem directly from such tax breaks for the rich and Reagan's massive military build up. Insofar as it is necessary to take measures to reduce the deficits, we should start by attacking its primary causes, massive military spending and tax breaks for the wealthy, before raising taxes for the average person.
Women's and Minorities' Rights
Under the Reagan administration much of the progress that women and minorities have made over the last two decades has been reversed. Black family income has fallen significantly as a share of white family income, and women's rights to control their bodies has been increasingly called into question. These trends have to be reversed. The government must actively lead the way in allowing minorities to achieve full equality, as they had begun to do under past administrations. If Reagan persists in his efforts to obstruct the struggle of minorities to obtain equality, then Congress will have to force him to respect the law. Similarly his efforts to fill the judiciary with judges who would deny women the right to control their bodies may require legislation that will remove their authority in this matter.
Social Spending and Social Policy
Virtually all of Reagan's efforts at curtailing "waste" have been directed at discretionary social spending which accounts for less than 20% of the budget. This has led to drastic cutbacks in federal aid in such areas as housing, education, student loans, and nutrition.
The amount of money saved by these cuts would be dwarfed by the amount spent on many weapons systems, yet they have led to considerable hardship for millions of citizens. In part due to Reagan's cutbacks, millions of people are homeless, infant mortality rates are actually rising, and millions of students may be denied the opportunity to complete their education because of inadequate funding.
These cutbacks are not simply cruel to the people directly affected, they are also extremely short-sighted from a financial standpoint. For example, the money saved by cutting back nutrition programs for pregnant women is more than offset by the medical bills the government pays to care for the increasing number of unhealthy babies.
The same sort of case could be made for childcare and education which allow more people to enter the labor force and get decent jobs. Congress should be leading the fight to reverse the cutbacks in these areas, and pushing to have the United States catch up to the rest of the western world in the quality of the housing, health care, and education which it provides to its citizens.
Under Reagan, the government agencies established to mediate labor-management relations have been turned into tools with which to harass workers. All manners of outrageous conduct by employers have been tolerated, while the regulations that apply to unions have often been applied in nitpicking detail. Most unions don't even bother dealing with the National Labor Relations Board anymore, since they know they won't receive a fair hearing.
Similarly the Occupational Health and Safety Administration seems more concerned about protecting the profits of corporations than protecting workers from exposure to hazardous working conditions and dangerous chemicals.
Also it's time that the government raises the minimum wage. There has been no increase in the minimum wage for five years, while prices have continued to increase. The minimum wage should be set at $5.00 per hour to compensate for inflation over the last several years.
The Reagan administration's callous disregard for anything to do with the environment is well known. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior have been concentrating their efforts on subverting environmental regulations. Their actions on toxic wastes for example seem to be more intended to assist corporations in escaping responsibility for their waste, than to clean up dangerous dump sites. The well-documented threat to our health posed by these wastes necessitates that they be cleaned up quickly.
Again, if the Reagan administration refuses to act on this and other environmental issues that pose immediate threats to our health and quality of life, then Congress will have to take the lead and force them to act.
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