The story was leaked and reported over and over by the major news outlets: “a majority of Democrats” on the Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the “super committee”) were proposing a kind of grand bargain that would undermine Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. There are 12 members of the committee, six of them Democrats. A nine-year-old could figure out that a “majority” is either four or five.
The super committee deliberations are in secret, behind closed doors. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wasn’t even present for what was being described as a momentous event. Committee staff members are reported to have been sent out of the room when the proposal was made. The news that “the Democrats” had put forward a sweeping proposal was later leaked to the media. Whoever did so apparently thought “a majority” was more impressive than four or five.
But get this. The Associated Press reported that “Several Democrats said during the day that the presentation had the support of a majority of the six Democrats on the panel, leaving the impression that at least one, and possibly two, of the party’s lawmakers had not signed on” and others “suggested that Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., a member of the party’s leadership, and Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Ca., had not agreed to support the recommendations.”
Clyburn and Becerra just happen to be the only Latino and the only African American on the panel, further underlining the totally unrepresentative nature of the committee and its undemocratic nature. The AP said aides to Becerra and Clyburn refused to confirm or deny that the two hadn’t gone along with the scheme. One can only wonder if maybe they are operating on the basis of some kind of centralism and rule out public dissent.
If the two opted out, the “majority” was four. The four remaining Democrats are Chris Van Hollen, of Maryland, Sen. Patty Murray, of Washington, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Sen. Max Baucus of Montana. They are the “majority.” Somehow the exalted Washington press corps couldn’t figure it out and tell us.
Asked by Politico specifically about Social Security, Murray said last week, “Everything is on the table, and we’ve made no decisions.”
It’s easy to see why some of the participants - especially the Democrats - would want to keep their positions secret.
According to David Rogers and Jake Sherman of Politico, “the Democrats” put forward “a package in the range of $3 trillion, including about $475 billion from health-related programs like Medicare and Medicaid and $400 billion more in cuts from appropriations. An additional $250 billion would come out of other federal benefits such as farm subsidies or the retirement system for federal workers. Though it is still a contentious issue inside the party, the leadership has also signaled it might include adjustments in the Consumer Price Index, impacting Social Security payments, as well as annual adjustments in the tax code.”
The caveat was that the bargain would also involve $1.3 trillion in added tax revenues.
“The Democrats’ plan was rejected by the Republicans because it included some tax increases. But the proposal demonstrates an alarming willingness to cave on core economic issues despite the vital role Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security play in our society and the widespread unpopularity of benefit cuts to these programs,” read a statement issued by Credo Action. “And recent history has shown us how Democrats intent on cutting a deal with Republicans will move from a bad deal to one that’s worse.”
As Robert Greenstein, Richard Kogan and Paul N. Van de Water, of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, note, the plan put forward by the super committee “majority” is “to the Right” of the defunct Bowles-Simpson commission and the Congressional “Gang of Six” failed dealmakers. “The Democratic plan contains substantially smaller revenue increases than those bipartisan proposals while, for example, containing significantly deeper cuts in Medicare and Medicaid than the Bowles-Simpson plan,” they write, “The Democratic plan features a substantially higher ratio of spending cuts to revenue increases than any of the bipartisan plans.”
“The 1% is using the super-secret Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (a.k.a. the Super Committee), to reach directly into the pockets of the 99% and steal hundreds of billions of dollars from them,” Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson wrote on the Huffington Post last week. “This committee has unprecedented power. It has been meeting behind closed doors for weeks. Finally, though, its plans are leaking out, and they are not pretty.
“Not satisfied with cutting the Social Security and other cash benefits of seniors, people with disabilities, widows, widowers, children, veterans, and others, the majority of Super Committee members reportedly are ready to impose devastating cuts of at least $475 billion to Medicare and Medicaid. Having touted universal coverage as one of the goals of the Affordable Care Act, a majority of Democrats on the Super Committee, as well as Republicans, are poised to make getting health care more difficult for the sickest, poorest, people with disabilities, and seniors. These cuts could literally be a matter of life and death for millions of Americans.”
“The 1% is particularly brazen in making these destructive proposals now when the 99% are making their voices heard across this nation in a multitude of ways,” Altman and Kingson continued. “On Wednesday October 26th in Washington, DC, Rep. John Conyers stood with nine other members of Congress and more than 100 seniors and supporters, to deliver more than 2.3 million petitions from the 99% along with a resolution put forward by 82 members of Congress representing the will of the 99%, with a single message: Hands Off Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid!
“Almost immediately after these 2.3 million petitions were delivered, the Democrats on the Super Committee completely ignored their message and pushed more cuts to the middle class and less tax increases for millionaires and billionaires than any previous ‘bipartisan’ commission.”
There have always been two ways of responding to the super committee since it was set up back in early September. Liberal and labor advocacy groups have exerted maximum efforts to influence the body’s deliberations. Others of us have suggested that it was futile to do so because the political establishment are determined, by hook or by crook, to deal with the economic crisis by undermining the living standards of working people, students, seniors, people with disabilities and the poor while protecting the pocketbooks of the already wealthy. Their chief target is, and has been from the beginning, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
The powers-that-be in Germany, citing the need to act on “particularly urgent and sensitive cases,” recently convinced the country’s parliament to create a special nine-member “cross-party committee” to make decisions on the use of the euro zone rescue fund to deal with the current debt crisis. They said the Bundestag’s 41-member Budget Committee is too big to do so. But when two Social Democratic Party members, sued, the Federal Constitutional Court issued an injunction calling a halt to the move. We could use some challenges in our country to the hatching of elite, secretive bodies designed to circumvent the normal democratic processes.
Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) have introduced bills to open up the super committee’s processes. “The American people have a right to know how their government is planning to spend taxpayers’ dollars,” Heller told reporters. On August 1, Waters told the House of Representatives she was “very concerned with the precedent set by this ‘Super Committee,’ whose establishment threatens our democratic process with its unconstitutional structure.”
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has said the Democrats are being too far backward in the deficit reduction talks. “These ‘super committee’ Democrats have put all their concessions on the table up front in the vain hope that the Republicans might reciprocate,” he said. “But it doesn’t work that way. In this political climate, concessions beget more concessions - not a workable compromise.”
Trumka said the labor federation would oppose any cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits.
The super committee is scheduled to make its report November 23.
“We call on politicians of both parties to stand firm and demand that Wall Street and the wealthy finally pay their fair share - given the extraordinary increases in corporate profits and income inequality in recent years. This is the moment we need to raise our voices to let Congress know that we will not stand for dismantling the safety net or letting Wall Street and the wealthiest Americans off the hook,” Trumka said.
“The people who talk about ‘shared sacrifice’ pretend that all Americans sit down at the deficit debate table on an equal footing. The fact is the incomes of middle-class workers have stagnated for three decades, and those of the wealthiest one percent have increased by over 275 percent,” says Max Richtman, President/CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM). “The Super Committee should reject harmful benefit cuts touching the lives of virtually every American family whether or not Republicans agree to increase government revenue.
“In Washington, ‘shared sacrifice’ and ‘balanced approach’ have become code for expecting everyday Americans to compound their sacrifice in the hopes that our nation’s corporations and wealthy might also be asked to give up a tax break here or there. The middle-class and poor in our nation have sacrificed enough.”