One of the most embarrassing failures of Congress over the last few years has been their complete inability to fund the federal highway system- or any other significant part of our country’s infrastructure. For years, the government has passed a series of short-term funding measures for the highway trust fund in order to pay for the upkeep of the interstates and highways that run through the country. Last month, two
brilliant foolish, anti-government Republicans proposed a bill that would completely defund the interstate highway system and hand power over to the states; but, Mitch McConnell thinks he has a better idea: fund highways by taking money away from federal employees’ retirement funds, homeowners, the elderly and disabled Americans on Social Security Disability.
Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised America that he would introduce a long-term funding bill for the Highway Trust Fund this month, but his plans to fund it leave much to be desired. McConnell’s bill would raise about $80 billion and fund projects for up to four years, but almost half of that would be raised on the backs of federal employees. The Majority Leader’s proposal would raise $30 billion by cutting the return investment rate on a retirement investment plan that many of our government’s employees invest in.
Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) addressed reporters and told them that McConnell’s proposal doesn’t have any support:
“That menu… it has the support of neither the Democratic or Republican caucuses at this point.”
The retirement plan that would bear the brunt of the cuts is the G-Fund option in the federal Thrift Savings Program. Democrats say that if they were to allow the cuts it would have devastating effects on return investments for employees. McConnell’s proposal would cut the program’s interest rate, which is based on a four-year average, to three months. This would make the returns much lower and not as safe as they are under the current system.
Another Republican option to raise the money for a long-term bill is to eliminate the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). HAMP was established by President Obama in 2009 to help homeowners who were behind in their mortgage payments to refinance their loans by using funds from the 2008 bank bailout. The program has helped more than a million Americans stay in their homes; help that would no longer be available is the GOP has their way.
As if these two proposals were not horrible enough, there are two more that would raise the funds, but hurt elderly and disabled Americans. One of them would stop the Social Security payments to any elderly American who has an outstanding arrest warrant. It doesn’t matter how old the warrant is or for what, it would completely take away their ability to support themselves.
The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare strongly opposes the proposal and said:
“Almost none of the seniors who would be affected by this provision are actual fugitives from justice and most of the warrants in question are many years old and involve minor infractions. Moreover, the Social Security Administration attempted to administer a similar provision for a number of years, with catastrophic effect for many vulnerable elderly seniors, employing procedures that did not withstand judicial scrutiny.”
The second proposal would stop Social Security Disability payments for anyone who is also receiving unemployment compensation. This is perhaps the most confusing of the proposals. Aren’t Republicans the party that is constantly telling people to get a job? So, when disabled people do exactly that and then lose their job, Republicans are going to punish them by taking a huge portion of their income away? They are perfectly fine paying some of our most vulnerable citizens when they have a job, meaning they are also receiving a paycheck, but suddenly don’t want them to receive two checks when they lose their job through no fault of their own?
You’ll notice that none of the plans to fund the highway system come from tax increases on the rich or money from the Defense Department. All of the funds would come at the expense of hardworking Americans, many of whom are on a fixed income. The GOP is proving once again how much they don’t care about average Americans and want to punish everyone who is not a part of the elite one percent. They aren’t even trying to hide their disdain anymore and we shouldn’t either. The 2016 elections are right around the corner and the best thing we can do to protect America is to vote as many Republicans out of office as we can.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.