fresh voices from the front lines of change







An unelected and unrepresentative group they call the ‘Super Committee’ has been given extraordinary power over our own economic destiny. Think if it as a political Justice League of America, except that its mission is to rescue Treasury bonds, not people.

Problem is, the bonds don’t need to be rescued. People do.

Donner party of twelve, your table is ready!

The twelve people on the Committee, six Republicans and six Democrats, come half from the Senate and half from the House. Their assignment is to find $1.5 trillion in additional deficit reductions, dollars that can only be found by collecting more taxes or by cutting more spending. The last deal, negotiated primarily by the White House and the Republicans, consisted entirely of spending cuts.

This twelve-person junta need to come up with roughly $1.5 trillion more in deficit reduction. The Republicans have already sworn not to raise taxes on the wealthy. The Democrats say they want to to be “balanced” and they’re eager make a deal.

We’ve seen this movie before. We don’t like the ending.

The Twelve

In the 1950’s teleplay Twelve Angry Men, a jury was ready to convict an innocent defendant until a lone holdout changed everybody’s mind. Even as recently as the mid-fifties, nobody found it remarkable that juries included only men. Boy, how times have changed! Today it’s all of us, middle class and lower income who stand in the economic dock, accused of nothing but facing our punishment anyway. But at least our jury of twelve isn’t all male. There’s one woman. [1]

You’ve come a long way, baby!

They walk on without the Lord’s name/ All twelve of them – into the distance/Prepared for the worst, Willing to spare no one.
“The Twelve,” Aleksandr Blok

Here are a few questions worth asking about this unelected junta, whose proceedings will be hidden from public view and whose judgments will be fast-tracked to a high-pressure up-or-down vote:

  • Democrats hold the Senate and the White House. That’s two out of three. So why is the group’s composition evenly split between the parties?
  • Why are the Committee’s members forbidden to come up with any solutions except deficit reduction?
  • Why are normal legislative rules being suspended to give them such extraordinary power?
  • Why aren’t we doing anything about our far more immediate economic crisis – jobs?

This is a stacked deck, any way you look at it. But you go to war with the Super Committee you have, not the Super Committee you wish you had. So it’s time to suck it up and let go of that democracy nostalgia. Representative government is so nineties!

Besides, it’s time to meet our new overlords.

The Antimatter Jobs Plan

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s meet our Republican panel! Leading off on the Senate side is Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, chief architect of the GOP’s ‘jobs plan.’ If that’s a plan for creating jobs, the Black Plague was a public health initiative. Let’s take a look at its highlights, which we can call up from Sen. Portman’s own website before you can say bring out your dead!

The plan’s first statement is that we must “begin living within our means.” That’s coded conservative language for cutting government spending on things like police, firefighters, and teachers. \This part of the “jobs plan” includes a “balanced budget amendment,” spending limits, and “spending cuts.” That’s three different ways of saying “let’s create jobs … by firing a lot of people.”

There’s more “job creation” in the Portman plan, too:

  • More tax cuts for capital gains and dividends, very much like the cuts that didn’t produce any jobs over the last ten years.
  • More tax cuts for millionaires, very much like the cuts that didn’t produce any jobs over the next ten years.
  • Anti-regulatory roadblocks to prevent “costly new mandates and burdens associated with Dodd-Frank and ObamaCare.”

Last year’s Dodd/Frank bill is a first small step toward urgently-needed bank reform which the Republicans say it’s too “costly” and “job killing.” The total cost of unreformed banking in 2008 was tens of trillions in lost wealth, and tens of millions of lost jobs. What they’re really saying is, “Wall Street spends billions of dollarson campaign contributions, and it would be too costly to lose them – too costly for us.”

“ObamaCare” is the Republican code for “the health law we supported when it was first drafted by the American Enterprise Institute, and then it was proposed by our Senators as an alternative to what we then called ‘HillaryCare’, which we embraced when Mitt Romney passed it in Massachusetts, and which we then decided was intolerable when it passed during a Democratic President’s term — after which we affixed his name to it as a pejorative term.”

That’s what they mean to say when they say “Obamacare.”

Unlike his Republican peers, Portman said recently that he’d be open to some “revenue enhancement.” That phrase is Beltway code for “increasing taxes on the middle class so the wealthy aren’t disturbed.” Expect more of this “flexibility” in the weeks to come.

There’s way too much in the wacky Portman plan than we can cover here, including a ban on any control of greenhouse gas emissions and lots of new international trade deals that’ll create new jobs … in other countries, by destroying millions more of them here.

If there’s one common thread running through this grab bag of far-right wish list items, it’s this: None of them create jobs, and most of them would destroy them by the millions. It’s an antimatter jobs plan, produced in some alternative universe, and like anything made of antimatter it would cause a massive explosion if it touched anything in our world.

Now Boarding, Crazy Train, Track 2

That’s the bad news about Portman. Want the good news? He’s the moderate Republican on the Committee. Another Committee member, Jed Hensaerling, voted for the Republican Study Committee budget, a document that’s the political equivalent of Ozzy Osbourne biting the head off a live bat onstage (an act he swears he never performed). Here are some of the highlights of that document:

  • It would increase defense spending, by about $50 billion over ten years[2].
  • It radically cuts other government spending, the kind that does create jobs.
  • It slashes Social Security and Medicare benefits, and weakens Medicare by turning billions over to insurance companies.
  • It slashes assistance to the needy, whose ranks have grown dramatically.
  • It would privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The last time that happened, sleazy executives used their government mandate to pay themselves billions and engage in practices that helped run the government into the ground.
  • It would cut $45 billion in 2012 alone for supplemental nutrition assistance – because nothing says prosperity like hungry poor children.
  • It would reduce the state children’s health insurance program by3 billion in 2012, because nothing says prosperity like hungry poor kids who can’t get medical treatment when they come down with rickets.

Funky Dollar Bill

It pollutes this air in the name of wealth. It’ll buy you life, but not true life … the kind of life where the soul is hard. My name is dollar bill.” Funkadelic, “Funky Dollar Bill”

Isn’t this plan crazy enough for you yet? Then get this: It also eliminates the $1 bill and replaces it with a coin. That may seem silly at first, but think about it.: Dollars are like pennies to the wealthy, and other people won’t have enough of them to matter. Besides, it helps the poor a little too. When all those malnourished and uninsured kids grow up blind and disabled, they’ll know if you really dropped a buck in their cup because they’ll hear it rattling against the tin.

All the Republicans on the Committee expressed support for the Paul Ryan budget proposal. That would have eliminated Medicare and replaced it with an increasingly worthless voucher, which they called “Medicare” in order to hide the fact that it was an increasingly-worthless voucher. The House Republicans also voted for steep cuts in funding for education and state and local police. (We’ve just seen how well that worked out in Great Britain.) There’s a lot of other crazy stuff in there, too.

All the Republicans have pledged not to raise taxes on the wealthy. But they seem to be open to “revenue enhancements” that would devastate the already-struggling middle class, like reductions in* the employer health benefit deduction (which would strip millions of medical coverage and create billions in out-of-pocket costs) and an end to the mortgage interest tax credit (which could put millions more homes into foreclosures and drive real estate values even more).

At any other point in modern history, people in both parties would have seen these six Republicans for what they are – extremists who seek the wholesale destruction of governmental institutions, the decimation of the middle class, and the transfer of even more national income national income to the ultra-wealthy. Eisenhower, Nixon, and even Reagan would recoil at their radical agenda.

The Defenders?

The Democrats on the Committee are the nation’s last line of defense. They must be outraged about these Social Security cuts, don’t you think? They must be gearing up to save us from this insanity right now, right? Actually the best-known Democrat on the Committee, John Kerry, told Meet the Press that we need “a mix of reductions and reforms in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.”

Kerry’s recently been repeating some of the economically meaningless mantras that were designed and promoted with billionaire Pete Peterson’s money, as when he said that our problem “is not the short-term debt… (but) the structural debt of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid measured against the demographics of our nation.”

No, it’s not. Social Security doesn’t contribute to the deficit. The demographic problem, or “baby boomer wave,” was fixed in the 1980s, which is why there’s currently a $2.6 trillion surplus in Social Security. And the way to fix Medicare and Medicaid, which are long-term problems, is by reducing or eliminating the direct and indirect cost of for-profit medicine from our economy.

Hey, maybe the Super Committee will say we can’t afford to treat health care as a get-rich-quick scheme for MBAs anymore! They won’t, of course, but any group that was sincerely committed to fixing our long-term deficits would.

Ladies Lady and gentlemen, have you reached your verdict?

The President’s already agreed to two deals that relied exclusively on spending cuts and gave the wealthy a free pass to keep enjoying their historically low levels of taxation. Many of the Democrats on the Super Committee have been praised for their “balanced” approach, while all of the Republicans have refused to consider taxes for the rich and are even proposing more cuts at the highest income levels.

These Democrats are the nation’s last line of defense. That’s reason to be concerned about their resolve, and reason to demand that they stand firm on behalf of measures supported by the majority of Americans. The majority wants higher taxes for the wealthy, no cuts in Social Security or Medicare benefits, and deep reductions in military spending.

There’s a reason why this Committee was designed to bypass normal democratic processes. The public hates what it’s trying to do. So do policy experts who understand how destructive their cuts would be to an already-wounded economy. The Republicans of today are radical extremists, and Democrats would rather appease the radicals than fight for what’s right.

The “Twelve Angry Men” scenario could never happen in this group, since the Republicans have already said they’ll never change their minds. If Democrats hold out for what’s right and fair, they can still protect us. But if they opportunistically choose to appease the radicals for misguided political reasons, they’ll be guilty of watching millions of people get hurt without lifting a finger. The words of Edmund Burke might have been written for today’s Democratic Party: All that’s necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Correction: Make that “… for good men and one woman to do nothing.” Like we said, times have changed, at least a little. The question is, will these Democrats change too? Because the Republicans won’t, so the old Democratic politics of compromise would spell doom for our economic future … and the Democratic Party’s political future.


[1] Since the House and Senate are both dominated by white males, especially on the Republican side, this isn’t as surprising as it seems. But it is unfortunate. The best way to change it is by electing a legislative body that more closely resembles America.

[2] Defense spending creates far fewer jobs for the money spent than other forms of expenditure.

* This originally read “elimination of,” but there are no current proposals to eliminate these deductions altogether.

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