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National Organization for Women

Urgent Action Needed: Women's Fate Tied to Budget Negotiations

Dear NOW Leaders,

Right now, the White House and congressional leaders are deciding the fate of women's lives in the 2012 budget negotiations, and we are very concerned about the extent of program cuts that may be made. The White House has been pushing for a "grand bargain" that would implement $2 trillion in reduced federal spending, $1 trillion in lower interest payments on U.S. debt, and $1 trillion in tax increases/reform over the next 10 years. Such deep cuts will dramatically shrink many domestic programs -- most likely human needs and community-based programs that primarily serve women and their families. But at least the White House and most Democrats want to end the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest and close a number of corporate tax loopholes.

Meanwhile, every Republican in Congress, as well as some Democrats, are on record voting for a 2012 budget that would have converted Medicare to a private voucher system that would likely increase out-of-pocket costs for seniors (especially hard for senior women who have less income and more health care costs); converted Medicaid to a block-grant program, most likely reducing funding over time and placing more of a burden on the states; and put Social Security benefit cuts on a legislative fast track -- all while simultaneously beefing up military spending and actually increasing tax cuts and loopholes for corporations and multi-millionaires.

Debt Ceiling Vote Critical - All sides must reach agreement before Aug. 2, which is the deadline for raising the debt ceiling. Republican negotiators are using their opposition to raising the debt ceiling as a hammer to get White House and Democratic concessions for more spending cuts. They are also maintaining their radical and unjust position against restoring higher tax rates on high-income earners. If the debt ceiling is not lifted, the U.S. government stands to default on its financial obligations, and serious economic repercussions could follow -- not only within the U.S. economy, but worldwide.

The current stand-off is of epic proportions, and all activists should be aware of what is at stake for women. The budget cuts extend across a wide array of human needs programs and could have an enormous economic impact on women and their families. Facing a doubtful future are domestic programs in education, child care, health care access, medical research, nutrition, food safety, agricultural production, low-income housing, homeless assistance and hundreds of others that serve millions. We are especially concerned that among the mix of spending cuts will be serious benefit reductions under Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- reducing income for senior women, low-income women, women with disabilities and families with a deceased or disabled parent.

Obama May Support Social Security Benefit Cut - In a press conference on July 11, President Obama hinted that he might support cuts to Social Security benefits and other entitlement programs as part of his $4 trillion "grand bargain" to reduce the federal deficit. NOW and its allies were very alarmed to hear this. One cut may be a switch to a different measure of inflation -- known as the "chained" CPI -- used to calculate Social Security's (and other programs') Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA). Calculations made by the Social Security Administration show that under a chained CPI, there would be 173,400 more people living in poverty by 2030 and that widows would receive $70 less per month ($840/year). Also, the longer a senior receives benefits under Social Security with the chained CPI in effect, the deeper the benefit cut, so that the oldest retirees (age 90 and beyond) would lose income equivalent to nearly two weeks worth of food each month, according to the National Women's Law Center. Another change may be an increase of the full retirement age to 69, which NOW opposes for obvious reasons. In the richest nation in the world, we do not need to work until we drop!

Cuts to Entitlement Programs Will Hurt Women Most - Because women rely disproportionately on Medicare and Medicaid, reductions in benefits under these programs would disproportionately hurt women, primarily low-income women, but also millions of senior women who live on fixed incomes and women with disabilities who often face the double challenge of low income and high medical expenses.

If such deep cuts to domestic programs as those being discussed are adopted without an increase in taxes on the wealthy, then it is women, seniors, persons with disabilities and low-income families who will bear the burden of balancing the federal budget deficit. But these are the groups who have contributed the least to our deficit! We must remember that the three primary drivers of the deficit are the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest; the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (paid for with borrowed money); and high unemployment, which results in lower income tax revenues and higher payouts for unemployment insurance and other assistance.

Here's The Bottom Line - In essence, reducing Social Security and Medicare benefits on top of slashing funding for hundreds of domestic programs like Head Start, child care subsidies, food stamps, battered women's shelters, low-income housing assistance, family planning and college tuition assistance amounts to granting a massive subsidy to the multi-millionaires and billionaires who have done so well during our calamitous economic meltdown while everyone else has suffered.

NOW leaders and activists must speak up now to protest these deep spending cuts and changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Every call, letter and visit to your Congress member counts -- the next three weeks could well change the direction of our country.

Please Take Action NOW - We cannot wait for a deal to be made. We have to act NOW!! NOW leaders must not allow congressional leaders and the White House to sell women out in the 2012 budget negotiations.

We encourage all of our leaders to do some or all of the following:

  1. Write and call your senators and representatives
  2. Visit your senators and representatives at their district offices. The Senate is our priority, especially moderate senators, because we have a greater chance of holding the line there if the White House agrees to a bad bargain.
  3. Picket or rally outside the district offices of senators or representatives that we know are NOT on our side, especially any first-term Tea Partiers; we have to educate the public why they should not be re-elected in 2012.
  4. Tell your friends and utilize social media like Twitter and Facebook; keep up to date with NOW's action alerts.
  5. Get your chapter fired up -- hold an emergency meeting or conference call to tell them about the critical, urgent and dire nature of spending cuts, especially to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
  6. Access our toolkit for chapters and activists: The Federal Budget is A Feminist Issue

Questions? Contact NOW Field Organizer Anita Lederer at fieldorg@now.org or call 202-628-8669 x134.

© 2011 National Organization for Women

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