fresh voices from the front lines of change







According to reports, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to announce today that his appointees to the super committee Gang of 12 will be Sens. John Kerry, Patty Murray and Max Baucus. Reid apparently has chosen not to appoint Sens. Bernie Sanders or Sherrod Brown or Jeff Merkley, who have forcefully stood with the majority of Americans who want Medicare and Social Security protected and who favor raising taxes on the rich to help reduce the deficit.

Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is a conservative Democrat. He has been a consistent supporter of Social Security, playing a key role in blocking President George W. Bush’s attempt to privatize the program. He was on President Obama’s deficit commission but sensibly voted against the plan put forth by the co-chairs, which would have cut deeply from Social Security and Medicare.

On the other hand, Baucus is a leading recipient of contributions from the drug companies and the health insurance industry. He has voted against repealing the tax benefits for companies that ship jobs overseas. He voted for the Bush tax cuts and voted to repeal the estate tax. He is not a champion of sensible health care policy or progressive tax reform.

Kerry, according to The Washington Post, is supposed to “appease liberals.” He ran for president in 2004. In that campaign, he pledged to protect Medicare and Social Security, arguing that we should not balance the budget on the backs of seniors. In recent months, he has spoken forcefully against the Republican efforts to turn Medicare into a voucher program.

But, like Obama, he is fatally attracted to the notion of a grand bargain, sacrificing cuts in Medicare and Social Security in exchange for increased revenues to reduce long-term deficits. And he is simply wrong-headed about what the nation must do in order to get the economy on track.

In a now infamous interview on Meet the Press, Kerry touted the $4 trillion “bigger deal” that Obama and House Speaker John Boehner nearly reached, with “a mix of reductions and reforms in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid but also recognize we needed to do some revenue.”

The “real problem for our country,” Kerry argued, “is not the short-term debt… It’s the structural debt of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid measured against the demographics of our nation.”

This is the essence of Pete Peterson, establishment nonsense. Yes, as every projection shows, we have a long-term debt problem. It is entirely a question of our broken health care system. Its soaring costs will bankrupt everything – families, businesses, state and federal governments – unless they are brought under control. That requires not cutting Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, which simply transfers those out-of-control costs to the most vulnerable and least able to pay. That requires taking on the drug and insurance companies, the private hospital complexes, the way we deliver medicine that leaves us with a system that costs nearly twice as much per capita as every other industrial system and delivers worse results.

Kerry goes on to say that a growth plan requires that “number one, we’ve got to deal with this debt and deficit, send Wall Street and the marketplace a message that the United States of America is deadly serious about dealing with this long-term structural deficit…”

Dealing with the debt and deficit in the midst of the recession, with Europe sinking and the recovery stalled, is a recipe for a renewed decline. Look at Britain, with riots on the streets. Look at Greece, with demonstrations throughout the country. Austerity bites. It costs jobs; it exacts pain on an economy already sick. It is like bleeding a patient already weak from loss of blood.

Kerry’s appointment will alarm, not appease liberals – for he is the most dangerous of politicians: someone who doesn’t understand what he doesn’t understand.

Patty Murray is the head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. This has led good government groups to protest that her interests in fund-raising will skew her positions on taxes and military spending (reinforced by being from the state of Washington, once the headquarters of Boeing). It has led Republicans to call for her to be withdrawn as too political.

A little political sense would be a good thing for Democrats on the committee. What is striking about the grand bargain that the president and House Majority Leader John Boehner allegedly were close to negotiating is how far removed it was from the priorities of the vast majority of Americans. It reportedly involved an exchange of cuts in Medicare (raising the eligibility age by two years) and Social Security (by lowering its inflation adjustment to cut benefits over time) for lower rates on taxes for the rich and corporations and limiting deductions on big-ticket items like employer-based health care or mortgages.

Americans, by overwhelming majorities, want Social Security and Medicare protected. And they favor tax increases on the rich and the closing of corporate tax havens as the first step in getting deficits under control. Democrats with a sense of social decency or a sense of self-preservation would be wise to stand with that majority. That opinion represents both good policy and good politics – something Tea Party Republicans scorn and Democrats would be wise to defend.

If these three are in fact Harry Reid’s appointees, progressives must mobilize. Social Security and Medicare, the basic promises we make to one another, the programs that workers pay into in order to have a modicum of security after a life of hard work, are now clearly at risk.

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