President Obama spelled it out for us last Saturday. During his weekly radio address, he said the country needs “a balanced strategy” with shared sacrifice, and for “everyone to be willing to make decisions that are not popular.”
The President’s remarks underscored the contention of some observers, including leading economists, that the White House has bought into the Republican argument as to what is wrong with the economy – why there are 14 million people looking for work at the same time. His reference to the employment crisis was this: “Through cooperation and a bipartisan approach, we can get our economy on firmer ground and give our businesses the confidence they need to create more jobs across the United States.” The reason for the jobless level is not “confidence” on the part of capitalists, critics say, but rather the fact that people aren’t buying enough of what their companies make or the services they render.
Former Administration economic advisor Jared Bernstein wrote in his blog Sunday that “consumer spending is way down and it’s not getting much of a boost from jobs and paychecks, which means that fiscal stimulus is about the only game in town, or it would be if policy makers weren’t spending practically every waking minute on budget cuts.”
“To get our fiscal house in order, we must cut spending, but we must also close tax loopholes for special interests and ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share,” the President said.
“We shouldn’t put the burden of deficit reduction on the backs of folks who’ve already borne the brunt of the recession,” the President said. “It’s not reasonable and it’s not right.” He then went on to propose precisely that. “If we’re going to ask seniors, or students, or middle-class Americans to sacrifice, then we have to ask corporations and the wealthiest Americans to share in that sacrifice. We have to ask everyone to play their part. Because we are all part of the same country. We are all in this together.”
The problem is that working people are already making big sacrifices, and closing tax loopholes and ending the tax cuts the Bush Administration bestowed on the wealthy is only “fair” in a relative sense.
Take, for instance, education. If tax write-offs for corporate jets are eliminated and those making a quarter of a million dollars a year have to pay taxes at the rate they did only a few years ago, and hedge fund managers start paying taxes at the same rate as their secretaries, the already well-to-do will still have little trouble paying their kids’ tuition bills. But it’s getting harder and harder for the children of working class families.
“The Center on Education Policy reports that 70 percent of school districts nationwide endured budget cuts in the school year that just ended, and 84 percent anticipate cuts this year,” wrote New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, last Sunday. “In higher education, the same drama is unfolding. California’s superb public university system is being undermined by the biggest budget cuts in the state’s history. Tuition is set to rise about 20 percent this year, on top of a 26 percent increase last year, which means that college will become unaffordable for some.”
In short, the children of working families are being priced out of the system.
“The immediate losers are the students. In the long run, the loser is our country,” wrote Kristof.
Meanwhile, all across the country social services, which largely benefit lower income women, men and children are being cut back and people who made them function are being added to the ranks of the unemployed.
The Administration is proposing to reduce federal spending by something in the neighborhood of $4 trillion; the Republicans want cuts amounting to about $9 million. Both have Medicare - and possibly Social Security - in their sites as areas for possible savings as part of what Obama calls a “grand bargain.” Grand it might be but for seniors and the disabled it would be anything but a bargain.
Leading left activist, Carl Davidson, called my attention last week to the view expressed back in 1954 by Former President Dwight David Eisenhower. In a letter to his brother, Edgar Newton Eisenhower, of Tacoma, the general who warned us about the growing power of the “military-industrial-complex,” wrote, “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”
Back then, the right wingers – with whom brother Edgar identified -- didn’t have Medicare to kick around but they went after Social Security and they haven’t let up their efforts until this day. Substitute the Koch Brothers or the Peterson Foundation for the oil moguls and you get a sense of historical continuity. They don’t give up.
Democracy is supposed to be the expression of the will of the people. The high drama debt ceiling machinations in Washington these days is anything but that. All the politicians go about declaring that they were sent to Washington to do “big things.” “So I’ve put things on the table that are important to me and to Democrats, and I expect Republican leaders to do the same,” says Obama. “You sent us to Washington to do the tough things. The right things. Not just for some of us, but for all of us. Not just what’s enough to get through the next election – but what’s right for the next generation.
“So I’ve put things on the table that are important to me and to Democrats, and I expect Republican leaders to do the same.”
The idea behind the failed report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (commonly referred to as Obama’s “own deficit commission”) was that representatives of the country’s political elite would come together and accomplish big things – like “reforming” Medicare and Social Security on a “bipartisan” basis, meaning nobody would take the blame. Now it seems Democratic and Republican Senate leaders are considering a “fall-back position” that is being looked at by Obama.
The scheme would set up a new 12-member congressional panel that would, by the end of the year, seek to come up with a way of reducing the deficit through cuts in entitlements and new tax revenue sources over the next 10 years. Such a commission would, according to one report, “circumvent parliamentary hurdles more easily than regular legislation.” This would probably involve a straight up or down Congressional vote without the possibility of amendment.
Doesn’t sound very democratic to me.