Republicans in Congress are holding the federal purse hostage

When you and your family buy stuff, you pay for it. You pay your rent/mortgage, your car payments, your utility and credit card bills. If you don’t, not only do you risk losing your house, your car, your electricity and your stuff, you risk losing everything you’ve worked for — plus your good credit and your good name.

Apparently, some politicians in Washington, D.C., don’t understand this.

Congressional Republicans, including some from here in Washington state, are again publicly threatening to default on their obligation to pay the nation’s bills. This is the same Congress that authorized this spending and racked up these bills and is now threatening to not pay them.

Their default threats don’t change what they owe, but they do endanger our nation’s credit rating and our ability to pay American troops, to send out Social Security checks, and to pay doctors in Medicare. If Congress doesn’t pay its bills, America’s businesses, workers and customers will pay the price — small businesses with government contracts, ordinary workers with retirement savings, and families who need home and student loans.

Why are they doing this? Because Republicans want to force benefit cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. At a time that the most serious economic challenge facing America is the continuing jobs crisis, they are making that jobs crisis worse by openly threatening to tank the U.S. economy unless they get their way.

Almost one out of 4 (23.9 percent) of Grays Harbor County’s almost 73,000 residents collect Social Security benefits, infusing more than $226 million a year into the local economy and one out of 5 residents (20.6 percent) receives Medicare benefits.

This is even more significant in Pacific County, where almost one out of 3 (33.5 percent) of the county’s 20,000 residents collect Social Security benefits, infusing more than $ 92 million a year into the local economy. Over one out of four Pacific county residents (28 percent) receives Medicare benefits and 17.9 percent of Twin Harbors residents residents live in poverty and receive Medicaid benefits.

Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell is proposing to slow the cost of living increases for Social Security recipients; increase the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67; raise Medicare premiums for higher income individuals; and cap Medicaid payments to the states. Those cuts would be a disaster for Grays Harbor and Pacific counties and for our country.

Changing Social Security’s cost of living index would lower benefits by $672 a year for an 80-year- old retiree like my mother (who lives with us), and over $1,200 for a 95-year-old. Changing the eligibility age for Medicare to 67 would force thousands of seniors into the more expensive private insurance market or leave them uninsured. Some would never receive benefits that they paid for their whole working lives. Capping Medicaid payment to states means lower health care benefits to the poorest and most vulnerable.

Working families need more economic security, not less. Our economic problems are not caused by overly generous Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare benefits. Social Security has not added one dime to the deficit. These programs’ projected budget imbalance over the long term is driven by health care cost growth. The solution is to make our health system more cost effective, not to shift costs to beneficiaries.

Any further deficit reduction should come from closing tax loopholes for Wall Street, drug companies and the richest 2 percent of Americans, not from budget cuts that threaten the 98 percent.

But if Congress is really serious about deficit reduction, they will focus on putting Americans back to work. The economy is still broken and unemployment is not expected to subside to pre-crisis levels in the next decade. Grays Harbor led our state in December with a 12.4 percent unemployment rate, and at 11.8 percent Pacific County was not far behind. Creating jobs will lower deficits. We have huge infrastructure needs in the Twin Harbors and all around the state. Passing the American Jobs Act would help support the private sector of our economy and put more folks to work. That will increase the revenue that pays the nation’s bills.

In the meantime, our economy cannot afford to keep lurching from one Republican hostage crisis to another. Congress must honor America’s commitments by paying its bills. They must stop tanking our markets and harming the economy with their default threats. Paying our bills is the bare minimum of responsibility and competence we expect from Congress. There can be no negotiation — period — about whether to honor our commitments.

This is America. We value honor and responsibility, and we take pride in being a great nation. But we’re being reduced to a deadbeat nation that doesn’t pay its bills by irresponsible politicians in Congress.

John Warring is president of the Twin Harbors Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO.