Funny money at the Capitol

By Nick Milano

After finishing a tour of the White House and spending a few minutes in the White House Visitor Center during a recent visit to Washington, D.C., my family and I headed down the street to catch the subway back to the hotel. Not two blocks from the White House, there were numerous empty buildings and one homeless man sleeping on the sidewalk.

Just 20 minutes earlier I was standing on the front steps of the most powerful house in the whole world. Later that afternoon on a tour of the U.S. Capitol, we watched a Republican representative offer an argument to a bustling chamber. Scratch that. The bustling referred to the clamoring of tourists. There may have been 20 representatives actually at work in the chamber and those few in attendance were more interested in typing away on cell phones. Is anyone home?

With the economy tanking, fuel prices continuing to skyrocket upward, food prices causing starvation in many countries around the world (not that this problem did not exist already) and housing foreclosures not showing any signs of slowing down, is anyone really expecting relief from the federal government?

Well, there are $600, maybe $1200 checks coming to a mailbox near you. For a family struggling to pay its mortgage, this one time assistance from Washington is sure to save them. Right.

Meanwhile, the federal government bailed out an economic giant in Bear Stearns. Being a crazy liberal from Massachusetts, I probably cannot understand the importance of giving one billion dollar business (JP Morgan Chase) control over another billion dollar business (Bear Stearns) at a vastly reduced price. To me, it is just the oft-told story of government supporting business over the interests of the people.

Look at big oil. After quarters and quarters of posting record profits, only recently were the executives dragged in front of Congress. The system of ignoring the plight of common, working class people is sure to continue to cause problems in the future.

The homeless man on the street may have been a drug addict. He may be addicted to alcohol. He may have mental problems. But that he was lying literally five minutes from the White House was stunning and sad. Most likely left to fend for himself, he lives at the mercy of the streets. While there are avenues for people to turn their lives around, surely there is more than can be done. But the problem is not localized solely to the homeless or the addicted or the mentally ill.

Lack of assistance plagues college students who cannot afford college. Instead, we take out ridiculous loans to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Those of us who enter fields for which graduate school is a must face more bills. With the credit crisis, it is assured that student loans will be harder to find. When banks do not have money, they cannot give out loans. Nothing has happened on this issue; the cost of secondary education has long been escalating. Washington would rather ignore the issue.

Lack of assistance plagues those who cannot afford health insurance. With the current estimate of about 47 million uninsured, there are many more problems with the United States health care system than there are cures. The uninsured are not those who fall under the government’s determinant of impoverished; they are covered by Medicaid. The uninsured are not those who are elderly and thus out of work; they are cared for by Medicare and Social Security. In fact, the uninsured are working class people for whom one illness can spell bankruptcy.

According to a recent Harvard University study, 50 percent of all bankruptcies are due to medical costs. The study also found that 68 percent of those who declared bankruptcy HAD health insurance. The government in Washington has done nothing to combat this. Congressional pockets are just spilling over from health care industry donations – Hillary Clinton, their former enemy, recently claimed the title as biggest earner.

Even with a Democratic majority, the elected government that has been serving us in Washington D.C., has been put the interests of the business community over the interests of their constituents. Anyone who has the gall to claim that a pittance of a tax refund is enough to get the economy back on track clearly has been swayed by outside influences. Those who call for a suspension of the gas tax because prices are so high miss the point by not asking why the prices are so high.

The United States is not perfect, but our government has seemed to have perfected turning a blind eye to its own failures. There is no greater indictment of this than a homeless man sleeping on a cardboard box in the middle of the afternoon minutes from the White House.

Nick Milano writes on Thursdays. He can be reached at [email protected]