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Response to Senator Durbin: We Need Your Progressive Leadership

Durbinville activists are demanding the senator stand against benefits cuts.

I work with IIRON and, over the last few months, our organization has led a number of actions urging Senator Dick Durbin to stand up for our communities during the federal budget negotiations in Washington.  Last week, we worked with a coalition of churches, student groups, and other grassroots groups to set up a “Durbinville” shanty-town to make clear to Senator Durbin that we believe cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other vital social programs could send us into depression era conditions.  We called on him to stand up for the people of Illinois, instead of pulling the Democrats toward the Wall Street budget on offer by the Republicans.

In anticipation of the event, I wrote a letter in the Sun-Times calling on the Senator to support progressive sources of revenue – such as a “Robin Hood” tax on financial speculation – instead of proposing we cut benefits from medicaid and medicare ($400 billion in cuts to medicare alone, to be exact). To my surprise, Senator Durbin wrote back last Thursday, the same day we held our Durbinville action. He claimed that progressive sources of revenue were “unreachable” and reiterated the need to make what he called “small changes” to medicare and medicaid.

I would like the respond publicly to Senator Durbin’s letter, right here, at Firedoglake:

I want to thank Senator Durbin for responding to my letter last week. I believe the health of our representative democracy depends upon dialogue between elected officials and their constituents.

I also want to applaud the Senator for pointing out that Social Security hasn’t added a cent to our deficit and should not be cut.  We need him to stand up for Social Security in Washington and reject proposals to raise the eligibility age or switch to a chained-CPI calculation for cost of living adjustments to this vital program.

In Senator Durbin’s response to me, he underscored that he is a progressive.  I am part of a growing coalition that is calling for Senator Durbin’s progressive leadership in this current budget showdown.  In 2009, Senator Durbin fought the Wall Street CEOs and stood up to Republicans by sponsoring legislation that would have allowed ordinary folks to renegotiate their mortgages before a judge.  After the bill’s defeat, Durbin stated that “the banks… are the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill.  And they frankly own the place.”  He clearly understood then that corporate lobbyists were pushing policies that have devastated families in Illinois.  We need him to stand up for us again.

We have to stop Wall Street CEOs and Republicans from making deep cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.  I do not believe progressive leaders should compromise by cutting immensely popular programs that benefit the poor, the sick, and the elderly.  The lives and well-being of the American people are not bargaining chips and they should not be sacrificed to cater to the appetites of the ultra-rich.

Senator Durbin is right, however, that a “Robin Hood” tax on financial transactions is “unreachable” – this is surely true so long as he and our other leaders are unwilling to take on corporate interests. We are in a time of economic crisis and our communities need leaders who will do everything within their (considerable) power to move this country forward. A miniscule tax on financial transactions is just common sense for the common good – and we need a lot more of that kind of thinking in Washington.

Senator Durbin, the Wall Street CEOs of Fix the Debt and their Republican allies are threatening our communities once again. They are advocating deeply unpopular policies that will harm my family and me.  Join us in advocating for policies that will benefit the people of Illinois.  We need to make sure that the richest 2% and Wall Street corporations pay their fair share. And we need to protect benefits and programs from these harmful cuts. And, when you do, our coalition of grassroots organizations will be there to help.

Public Domain Photo of Sen. Durbin by US Government.

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Jacob Swenson

Jacob Swenson