Analysis Law and Policy

Why Women and People of Color Should Be Concerned About the Fiscal Cliff Negotiations

Sheila Bapat

The impact of Democratic victories could be undercut during the looming “fiscal cliff” negotiations if Democrats do not unite and flex their muscle to actually protect the coalitions who elected them.

Many view the 2012 election as a mandate on the Democrats’ vision for the poor and middle class. Tammy Baldwin, for example, clearly won her Senate seat because she campaigned on two words: middle class. Elizabeth Warren, elected in Massachusetts, has been one of the most forceful advocates for economic justice. And of course, President Obama’s re-election is also validation of his first four years.

Women and non-white voters played a critical role in these victories, but their interests may not be well-served if Democrats do not unite and flex their muscle during the looming “fiscal cliff” negotiations to protect these coalitions. The fiscal cliff is a concocted concept, or at least an exaggerated one, referring to the effective end-date of put in place by the 2011 Budget Control Act. This law requires an end to Bush era tax cuts, Obama’s payroll tax cuts, and particularly troubling as the National Women’s Law Center points out, extended unemployment benefits, along with sequestration (automatic, across-the-board cuts to a number of federal programs). Negotiations on what these cuts will actually look like are set to begin in earnest this week.

The terms of the Budget Control Act could raise a good amount of revenue, but at what cost? For many of the nation’s women and people of color, the possibility of deep cuts to the unemployment provision and other social programs is particularly disturbing. As of October 2012, the unemployment rate is holding steady at 7.9 percent, with 7.2 percent women unemployed, and a staggering 10 percent of Hispanic Americans and 14.3 percent of African Americans unemployed. It’s clear that women and people of color have had a tougher time regaining their footing in the economy—and cuts to the unemployment extension could exacerbate this.

If no agreement is reached, the emergency unemployment compensation program—costing about $26 billion—would be automatically cut along with a number of other programs.

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If all goes according to some Democrats’ current plans, these cuts and other cuts to federal programs will be avoided. Over the past several days Democrats have asserted that cuts to social programs will only take place if there is enough revenue to match savings. For example, on NPR’s Morning Edition last week, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the fourth-ranking Democrat in the Senate, stated that in the fiscal cliff negotiations, any spending cuts must be balanced with tax increases on the wealthy.

“Balance” means different things to different Democrats. Some Democrats, including President Obama, assert that a 3-1 spending cuts to revenue ratio is acceptable. The more liberal wing of the party are concerned that the spending cuts may be too severe: Democratic Senators Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Tom Harkin of Iowa are asserting that any spending cuts should be matched 1-1 with revenue increases.

Harkin (D-IA) also indicated that cutting Medicaid would be off the table—but President Obama at one point did support a near-$100 billion cut to Medicaid.

This is another point of concern for both women and people of color: as of 2011, 11.5 percent of all American women were covered by Medicaid, and 28 percent of African Americans relied on Medicaid, and a high percentage of Hispanic Americans rely on Medicaid as well.

In addition, Moms Rising pointed out that Women, Infants and Children (WIC), a federal nutrition assistance program for poor pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and their very young children, is among the programs that would face automatic cuts if an agreement is not reached.  

Democrats had much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, in part due to their most critical coalition of voters—women and people of color. To make good on this post-election validation Democrats should stand united for the groups of Americans who need them most.

News Politics

Rep. Steve King: What Have People Of Color Contributed to Civilization?

Ally Boguhn

King came under fire this month after local news station KCAU aired footage showing that the Iowa representative keeps a Confederate flag displayed on his desk.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) on Monday questioned what “contributions” people of color have made to civilization while appearing on an MSNBC panel during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

King’s comments came during a discussion on racial diversity within the Republican Party in which fellow panelist Charles P. Pierce said, “If you’re really optimistic, you can say this was the last time that old white people would command the Republican Party’s attention, its platform, its public face.”

“That [convention] hall is wired by loud, unhappy, dissatisfied white people,” Pierce added.

“This ‘old white people’ business though does get a little tired, Charlie,” King responded. “I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about. Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

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“Than white people,” Hayes attempted to clarify.

“Than Western civilization itself,” King said. “It’s rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That’s all of Western civilization.”

Another panelist, reporter April Ryan, countered “What about Asia? What about Africa?” before the panel broke out into disarray. Hayes moved to cut off the group, telling them, “We’re not going to argue the history of civilization.”

“Let me note for the record that if you’re looking at the ledger of Western civilization, for every flourishing democracy you’ve got Hitler and Stalin as well,” Hayes said. “So there’s a lot on both sides.”

Hayes justified abruptly ending the conversation about King’s comments in a series of tweets, saying that he had been “pretty taken aback by” the comments.

“The entire notion of debating which race/civilization/ ‘sub group’ contributed most or is best is as odious as it is preposterous,” Hayes tweeted. “Which is why I said ‘we’re not debating this here.’ But I hear people who think I made the wrong call in the moment. Maybe I did.”

King came under fire this month after local news station KCAU aired footage showing that the Iowa representative keeps a Confederate flag displayed on his desk. King, speaking with Iowa talk radio host Jeff Angelo, defended keeping the flag in his office.

“This is a free country and there’s freedom of speech,” King said, according to Right Wing Watch. “And, by the way, I’d encourage people to go back and read the real history of the Civil War and find out what it was about. A small part of it was about slavery, but there was a big part of it that was about states’ rights, it was about people that defended their homeland and fought next to their neighbors and their family.”

As the Washington Post’s Philip Bump explained in a report on King’s comments, “there have been a great number of non-white contributions to human civilization.”

“Civilization first arose in cities in Mesopotamia, in what is now Iraq and Syria. Arabic and Middle Eastern inventors and scientists brought astronomy to the world, which in turn aided innovations in navigation,” Bump wrote. “Critical innovations in mathematics and architecture originated in the same area. The Chinese contributed philosophical precepts and early monetary systems, among other things. The specific inventions that were created outside of the Western world are too many to list: the seismograph, the umbrella, gunpowder, stirrups, the compass.”

News Politics

#SitInForThe49 Protesters Demand Gun Safety, Equality, and End to Community Violence (Updated)

Tina Vasquez

Protesters are demanding action from Sen. Marco Rubio and “all elected officials who have contributed to the discrimination and violence” that plagues communities of color, according to a press release.

UPDATE, July 12, 9:42 a.m.: After spending nearly ten hours at Sen. Marco Rubio’s Orlando office, ten sit-in participants were arrested, according to local news reports. Monivette Cordeiro of Orlando Weekly reported that those arrested were released from police custody as of Tuesday morning.

UNITE HERE, a national labor organization committed to LGBTQ rights, launched a sit-in on Monday at Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s Orlando, Florida office.

The 49-hour sit-in in the atrium of his office building seeks to honor the 49 predominantly Latino victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and demand action from Rubio and “all elected officials who have contributed to the discrimination and violence” that plagues communities of color, according to a UNITE HERE press release.

In the month since the deadly mass shooting “opportunist political leaders” have done nothing to help the communities most affected by the attack, UNITE HERE said in the press release. The “No Fly No Buy” legislation, pushed by Democrats that would bar gun sales to people on a government terrorist watch list, only “employs racial profiling and fails to address the most urgent needs of marginalized communities,” it added.

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On behalf of the inaction of politicians to address issues affecting queer and trans communities of color, those participating in the #SitInForThe49 have a list of demands related to gun safety, equality, and community violence. At the top of the list is a call for lawmakers to reject financial contributions from the National Rifle Association and implement universal background checks. Protesters also want lawmakers to enact legislation making it a crime to “knowingly import, sell, manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon or large capacity ammunition-feeding device.”

The victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, almost all of whom were queer people of color and many of whom were immigrants and undocumented, already suffered from discrimination because of their identities, poverty wages, and an unjust immigration system, according to UNITE HERE. That is why protesters are demanding “not only an end to hateful rhetoric and policies that perpetuate racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, and xenophobia, but the passage of a fully-inclusive national LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination law and comprehensive immigration reform,” UNITE HERE explained in the press release.

Lastly, those participating in the sit-in are calling for lawmakers to end police brutality and develop “a transparent database of law enforcement activities, repeal mandatory-minimums for non-violent drug offenses, and institute after-school programs, living wage jobs, and accessible higher education to cultivate brighter futures” for community members.

Rubio, who has received endorsements from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and conservative leaders opposed to LGBTQ rights, cited the Pulse nightclub shooting as the reason he was re-entering the run for re-election to the Senate, months after stating he would not run.

“Sen. Rubio claims he is ‘deeply impacted’ by last month’s Pulse Nightclub Shooting, yet he continues to terrorize Orlando’s LGBTQ+ communities of color by adhering to a platform of so-called ‘conservative values‘ which discriminates, dehumanizes, and denies access to the American dream,” said UNITE HERE.

Responding to the news of the sit-in, Sen. Rubio’s office said in a statement to Rewire: “Senator Rubio respects the views of others on these difficult issues, and he welcomes the continued input he is receiving from people across the political spectrum.”

Michelle Suarez, one of the protesters participating in the sit-in told Rewire that as an immigrant and a Latina, she felt it was important to join the sit-in because a bulk of those killed in the nightclub shooting were Latino and she wants to stand with her community. Seeing people become politicized has been a bright spot, she said, and she’s hopeful that things will “one day change” for the communities most impacted by the shooting, but the activist told Rewire she is disappointed in politicians whose politics disenfranchise communities of color.

“Marco Rubio has said he’s for the Latino community and when the shooting happened, he made a statement saying he was impacted, but the reality is that his voting record and the money he receives from the NRA and his platform of so-called ‘conservative values’ is what continues discrimination against our communities,” Suarez said.

“If politicians won’t do anything for us, we need people to start organizing and strategizing for reform. We can not tolerate the racism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, or xenophobia. We hope this sit-in unites people and inspires them to organize.”