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.