Here we go again. Republicans are very clear about their latest extortion threat to the American people: Unless you cut Social Security and Medicare benefits, within the next two months we will throw the US economy back into recession - by refusing to allow the US raise the debt ceiling and pay our bills - or by pushing the economy over another fiscal cliff of deep spending cuts and tax increases - or by shutting down the government by refusing to pass a continuing budget resolution.
But it is very important for progressives and politicians to remember that most Americans hate what the Republicans are doing here. Who but Right Wing terrorists could support pushing the economy back into recession, throwing millions of Americans out of work? That's what Republicans are threatening. And huge majorities also hate the price Republicans are demanding to prevent their threat of manufactured chaos: the idea of cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits.
Republicans can get their way only if Democrats fail to realize they have the American people on our side. And once Republicans are clear about their proposals, Americans turn against them.
During the election, Paul Ryan's plan to turn Medicare into a voucher was so unpopular that candidate Mitt Romney ran away from his Vice Presidential nominee's proposal. Democrats won the election.
Now, Tennessee Republican Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander have dared to unveil aproposal (called their "dollar-for-dollar plan") that would only allow the debt ceiling to be raised by the amount we allow them to cut what they term "entitlements." How many Americans would embrace these changes?:
- They would privatize Medicare by creating competing private options giving seniors greater choice of healthcare plans. Shades of the plan Mitt Romney endorsed and then ran from.
- They would also give states more flexibility to cut Medicaid programs.
- And they would gradually raise the Social Security retirement age and immediately impose the "chained CPI" formula to cost-of-living adjustments - a cut to retirement benefits of today's seniors.
"Unfortunately for America, the next line in the sand is going to be the debt ceiling," Corker told The Hill, laying out his leverage strategy for negotiations with Democrats. These guys couldn't be more explicit
Over the next two months, everyone who loves our country must rise up and say NO to this Republican nihilistic extortion. We must isolate them, ridicule and shame them. And we must force the Democrats to have the backbone to stand with us and reject Republican extortion and economic terrorism.
President Obama campaigned for reelection on his pledge to repeal the Bush tax cuts for people making more than $250,000, but he backed down and agreed to raise taxes only on people making more than $400,000. In return, he got an extension of unemployment benefits and important low income tax provisions. But he could only get Republicans to postpone for two months the Fiscal Cliff tax increases and spending cuts known as "sequestration." And he failed to get them to give up the threat to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States that their refusal to raise the debt limit ceiling would bring on. Their refusal to support the once-routine legislation insuring we can pay our debts is already causing the Treasury Department to juggle accounts and will reach crisis stage by the end of February.
President Obama has pledged that he will not bow to Republican extortion over the debt limit:
"I will not compromise over ... whether or not Congress should pay the tab for a bill they've already racked up. If Congress refuses to give the United States the ability to pay its bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy could be catastrophic. The last time Congress threatened this course of action, our entire economy suffered for it. Our families and our businesses cannot afford that dangerous game again."
But remember that President Obama did negotiate the last time Republicans threatened to crash the economy by refusing to raise the debt limit, in September 2011. Obama was willing to offer up Social Security benefit cuts (in the form of a new "chained CPI") and a change in the Medicare eligibility age (from 65, when many people are forcibly retired, to 67). It was only because Republicans refused to accept tax increases that Obama's dangerous offer was not accepted. Instead, in return for Republican votes to lift that last debt ceiling, the draconian fiscal cliff sequestration budget cuts scheme was created (now postponed until early March).
So while President Obama may refuse to negotiate with Republicans over their latest manufactured debt limit crisis, he could end up negotiating to avoid the threat of sequestration. And Social Security and Medicare cuts could be on that table.
A Powerful Coalition Reminding Democrats What Americans Want - And Don't Want.
President Obama and other Democrats need to listen to the voices of the groups who helped get them elected in 2012 - unions, community organizations, groups representing women, African Americans and Hispanics, and online activist groups like MoveOn and the Campaign for America's Future.
On November 8, many of these groups placed an ad in the Washington Post making a set of demands on the President and Congress. These demands have served as unifying principles for a powerful organizing and outreach coalition. Signed by organizations including the AFL-CIO, SEIU, Center for Community Change, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the Campaign for America's Future, the ad was accompanied by an open letter to the White House and Congress signed by 146 national organizations.
If the President and the Democrats in Congress listen to these principles - and to these groups who have been communicating with them before and after the election - they will refuse to cut Medicare and Social Security in response to the Republicans' threat reject the debt ceiling and tank the economy. And they will discover they have the vast majority of Americans on their side.
Here what the ad said, in part:
As you face urgent budget decisions, you must keep the election results in mind and resist budget cuts that slow our economy and hurt families. The best way to reduce the deficit is to put people back to work and get our economy going again. That's why we are calling on national leaders from both parties to stand up for the middle class and demand that any budget agreement:
Asks all Americans to pay their fair share of taxes.
Prioritizes job creation first. It's time to grow--not slow--the economy.
Does not cut Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits and does not shift costs to beneficiaries or the states. Voters loudly and clearly spoke up for these programs.
Protects the safety net and vital services for low-income people.
Stops the sequester. The scheduled automatic budget cuts threaten our fragile recovery and put huge numbers of people out of work while cutting education, child care, job training and dozens of vital services people and communities need.
The groups involved have helped the American Majority of working families communicate these demands to the President and the Congress. So far, we have kept Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid off the chopping block. We are redoubling our efforts to prevent Democrats from capitulating to Republican hostage-taking and extortion. And we are turning our campaign to opposing conservative austerity - and fighting for jobs and robust economic growth.