Last week, the Financial Times ran a commentary by Benn Steil, a senior fellow and director of International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, headlined “U.S. Solvency Rests with 12 Angry Men.”
Well, not exactly. There is one woman on the new Joint Select Committee on Debt Reduction.
And it wasn’t the headline writer’s mistake; Steil wrote the story that way.
Right after the recent debt deal was agreed to in Congress and the new 12-member “super committee” was set in motion, the Women’s Media Center called upon Congressional leaders to appoint an equal number of men and women to it, noting that its members “will decide the future of many social programs relied upon by millions of Americans” and “making critical judgments that will likely affect social programs that women disproportionately depend on – like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.”
As it turns out Sen. Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, will be the only female present when the guys begin their deliberations – or, some would say, horse trading.
But you are not alone sisters. There is only one African American in the group and only one Latino, both Democrats in the House of Representatives.
And, as Melissa Harris Perry said on the MSNBC Al Sharpton show the other day, the three designated by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – Reps. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and Xavier Becerra of California Chris Van Hollen of Maryland – are the only members of the full committee that are not very rich.
Obviously, there is nothing demographically representative of the Gang of 12. It’s hardly democratic; but then, there is nothing particularly democratic about the whole setup.
A lot of attention is being given to the political composition of the panel when, in fact, its very existence should be called into question. It’s a scam designed to bypass the regular legislative process (if it makes recommendations they will be voted up or down by the Congress with restricted debate and no amendments allowed.) Its purpose it is permit the Republicans and Democrats to make “tough” decisions about the Federal budget. It’s a given that any decisions they make regarding cuts in social programs will mean fewer resources for the elderly, students and disadvantaged communities. Since each and every one of the Republicans on the panel has previously pledged to oppose any tax increases, even on the most wealthy, the odds are against the group coming up with anything. However, one Democrat could join them, throwing any thought of revenue enhancement out the window.
Then there is that other assault on democratic governing, the “trigger” mechanism whereby if the panel cannot agree, or the Congress is deadlocked over what it proposes, there will be an automatic $1.2 trillion in budget cuts that would, among other things, seriously jeopardize the future of Medicare.
“Put this whole mess up on the big board at the MGM Grand in Vegas, and the line would probably be 50-1 that working people, sick people and the elderly are, once again, about to take it on the chin,” wrote William Rivers Pitt, author of “House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America’s Ravaged Reputation,” on Truthout.org the other day. “Perhaps more galling than the seemingly evident outcome of this farce is the fact that the whole process flies in the face of Constitutional law. Nowhere in that document does it give Congress the power to supersede the established process of legislating through full committees and sub-committees, and after all is said and done, the whole thing could wind up being thrown out by the courts if a legal challenge is brought against the ‘super-committee’s’ final conclusions.
“Nothing good will come of this, I fear. A great deal of bad, however, almost certainly will.”
Meanwhile, all the attention that will be directed at the super committee, its makeup and possible dealings, will serve to distract from the two big elephants in the room: the state of the economy (clearly made worse by all this maneuvering) and the 14 million people unemployed. Then there is the specter looming out of London these days.
“The American right today is obsessed with cutting government spending. In many ways, Mr. Cameron’s austerity program is the Tea Party’s dream come true,” wrote two New York sociology professors, Richard Sennett and Saskia Sassen. “But Britain is now grappling with the consequences of those cuts, which have led to the neglect and exclusion of many vulnerable, disaffected young people who are acting out violently and irresponsibly — driven by rage rather than an explicit political agenda.”
“America is in many ways different from Britain, but the two countries today are alike in their extremes of inequality, and in the desire of many politicians to solve economic and social ills by reducing the power of the state,” Sennett and Sassen continued. “Britain’s current crisis should cause us to reflect on the fact that a smaller government can actually increase communal fear and diminish our quality of life. Is that a fate America wishes upon itself?”
House Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson of Connecticut has proposed the debt ceiling legislation be amended to form a panel tasked with creating a plan to eliminate unemployment by 2021.
“I plan to introduce legislation that would establish a Joint Select Committee on Job Creation that would be tasked, under the exact same terms as the Deficit Committee, with developing a plan to return the nation to full employment by 2021,” says Larson. “This would allow the Congress to simultaneously consider both our near-term (high unemployment) and our long-term (growing debt) challenges later this year. Just like the Deficit Committee, all options would be on the table. We owe the American people nothing less.”
Fat chance of anything like that happening, not without a tremendous upsurge in public outrage. The Republicans will never agree to it and the Democratic Party leadership, from the White House on down, have shown scant willingness or courage in putting anything really “tough” on the table and go to bat for it.
On Wednesday, the New York Times called the Federal Reserve’s decision to hold down interest rate for the next couple of years “a sign that it has all but written off the chances of an expansion strong enough to drive up wages and prices,” adding “It is now conventional wisdom among forecasters that the economy will plod along through the end of President Obama’s first term in office. Millions of Americans will not find work. Wages will not rise substantially.”
The same day economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote, “Our leaders tried papering over the economy’s weaknesses – perhaps out of fear that if we were honest about them, already fragile confidence would erode. But that was a gamble we have now lost. Now the scale of the problem is apparent, a new confidence has emerged: confidence that matters will get worse, whatever action we take. A long malaise now seems like the optimistic scenario.”
I would like to think Stiglitz is being overly pessimistic but there appears to be nary a bright spot in this situation.