Her sister-in-law called her the other day, she said. “Did you hear Obama yesterday?” was the first thing out of her mouth, she said. We were at the end of the table at a senior activist luncheon last week. BC Question: What will it take to bring Obama home?“Yeah, he sounded like he should have been sounding all along,” she said she told her husband’s sibling. I was tempted to respond that one swallow a summer does not make, but held off when another sister across the table chimed in, “He seemed to have got some fire, like he’s had it up to here (two fingers under the chin) but then again it could be just that the election’s coming up.” I almost said, “whichever”, but held my tongue. We went on to discuss the final episode of Criminal Intent. Still, the conversation has remained with me. That the three of us had found pleasure in the fact that the President might seem to be standing up to those “darn Republicans” was something.
“I am prepared to bring our deficit down by trillions of dollars. That’s with a T, trillions. But I will not reduce our deficit by sacrificing our kids’ education… by eliminating medical research being done by our scientists,” Obama said last week. “I won’t sacrifice rebuilding our roads, and our bridges, and our railways and our airports.
At another point Obama declared, “If we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, if we choose to keep a tax break for corporate jet owners, if we choose to keep tax breaks for oil and natural gas companies that are making hundreds of billions of dollars, then that means we’ve got to cut some kids off from getting a college scholarship, that means we’ve got to stop funding certain grants for medical research, that means that food safety may be compromised, that means that Medicare has to bear a greater part of the burden.”
Watch that euphoria. Just because a crocus has sprouted in the snow doesn’t mean it’s ever going to bloom. That was brought home to me a few days later when a report circulated that the Obama Administration is considering putting on the table a proposal to change the way the Social Security cost-of-living adjustments are calculated, one that would mean a few thousand dollars a year less for a lot of seniors and play havoc on older women who would find their benefits no longer based on their highest work life earning but rather on the average.
Therein lays the rub. We are still faced with the prospect that there is some kind of “deal” in the works to get by the current budget and debt ceiling deadline that will represent anything but the “shared sacrifice” some pundits keep prattling on about.
According to Richard (RJ) Eskow, the latest “bipartisan” scheme making its wage to the wagering table is something called “chained CPI.” (No, your local daily probably hasn’t mentioned it). On the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF)’s website, he calls it “Washington’s latest gimmick for tricking voters and cutting their hard-earned benefits to protect the wealthy.”
“That may sound like inflammatory rhetoric, but the numbers don’t allow for any other conclusion. People retiring today could lose more than $18,000 in benefits over their lifetimes – and people who are already retired will feel the pain too,” wrote Eskow.”
Eskow says it is “an underhanded way to cut Social Security benefits (its true intent)… unnecessary…unfair to women, the poor, minorities, and the very elderly” and is reflective of an “un-American political culture of pessimism and lost faith in the future.”
“We now have sorry news of the foul deal that the White House is pushing in the debt ceiling talks,” CAF’s Robert Borosage wrote July 1. “ About $1.5 trillion in spending cuts – including $200-300 billion from Medicare and Medicaid – in exchange for $130 billion in loophole closings – corporate jets, race horses and the like.
“Forget about one-to-one spending cuts to top end tax hikes. This is worse than 10 to 1. Programs vital to Americans get cut – Medicare, Medicaid, Pell grants, education, public health. Tax breaks not needed for the wealthy get extended.”
The other night, the German News Agency television broadcast said the austerity measures being enacted by the Greek parliament we affecting all segments of the society. Hearing it immediately recalled to mind New York Times columnist David Brook’s recent lame appeal for the U.S. Congress to enact “deficit reduction” measures that would “make everybody hurt” when enacting budget cuts. But then there was that San Francisco daily headline last week that said students and the poor would be hit hardest by the looming California spending reductions.
The people on the hotel-sixe yachts in the Aegean aren’t going to be hurting when the bit cuts in employment and services come to Greece. It’s the working people and the small business people who are going to feel the pain. The winners will be the pawnshops and big European banks. Likewise, the position of the mortgage speculators and hedge funds that made out like bandits before and during the capitalism’s current economic crisis can expect to remain secure when the wheelers and dealers in Washington have done their magic.
According to the Associated Press, the President “says he is proposing a balanced approach that spreads the pain among people who rely on government services and those most able to finance them.” I guess that’s what passes under the rubric of “shared sacrifice” in these times. But don’t hold your breath waiting for even that to happen.
It hardly needs repeating. What the country needs right now are strong measures to create jobs for the 12 million unemployed and the young people entering the workforce every day. The wise economists tell us repeatedly that is the only way to get the economy moving again. And along the way we might pay attention to the lingering mortgage crisis that still threatens any hope of economic recovery.
It’s not as if the President is not talking about jobs; he did so at a June 29 press conference. The problem is he’s not saying too much, at least not in any way that relates to what is happening on Capitol Hill. He talks about streamlining government regulations to make it easier for new business ventures to start quicker. We’re all down with that. As long as it doesn’t threaten our health, speed up global warming or make us less safe on the job. (matters which seem to bother Republicans not too much). He talks about accelerating foreign trade deals. We’re down with that too, in general. Trade pacts can, however, destroy jobs as well as create them.
Obama asks Congress to “send me a bill that puts construction workers back on the job rebuilding roads and bridges – not by having government fund and pick every project, but by providing loans to private companies and states and local governments on the basis of merit and not politics.” We’re down with that too. But who’s going to do the funding and who will provide the loans? Is there any proposal before Congress to make this happen?
“Forget shared sacrifice. The most vulnerable Americans will be forced to pay for the mess created by Wall Street’s excesses and Bush’s follies,” says Borosage. “If these guys were negotiating for the purchase of your next car, your first born might be at risk.
“Through this, Democrats have been silent.
“The deal probably can’t pass the House without Democratic votes but Nancy Pelosi has been excluded from the negotiations. The deal can’t pass the Senate without the Democratic majority, but other than Senator Sanders, Democrats have said nothing, allowing Republicans to drive the debate.
“And like any extortionists, Republicans have raised the stakes, walked out of the talks, calling ANY tax revenues unacceptable. This, despite the fact that the American people overwhelmingly – and even a majority of Republican voters – support tax hikes as part of deficit reduction.
“Republicans are in an utterly untenable position – but they are confident that the president will cave. And given the history of the tax negotiations last December and these negotiations to date, it isn’t hard to imagine where they got that confidence.
“It is time for Democrats to assert their values.”
That is assuming they have any left.
The country really does need a deal right now; that’s as in ‘New Deal.” There are a lot of people, groups and new movements out there proposing that we come up with one. There’s the Congressional Black Caucus budget plan and the People’s Budget of the Congressional Progressive Caucus of the Progressive Caucus. There’s the Van Jones – Roots “Rebuild the American Dream” movement. There is also the campaign for New Priorities that effectively links the economic crisis to wasteful military spending. And, the Social Security Works & Strengthen Social Security Campaign and the dynamic Main Street Contract for the American People campaign of National Nurses United. They all deserve support. They are taking the case to the nation’s people. “The President said I will not tell you what you want to hear, I will tell you what you need to hear’ and I think he needs to take that bully pulpit and move around the country doing whatever he has to do to try to make sure that the American people understand how urgent the situation is,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md) said last week about the budget and debt talks.
Sometime I think it would be really good if we had a parliamentary system in our country. The next Presidential election over a year from now would still loom large in the Washington tussle but there would be the option of a vote of confidence and all the parties would have the ever-present threat of a new election – right now.
I think President Obama would win it but as nearly everyone knows, the chance could be slipping away.